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Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Wozzeck (1921)
Theo Adam (baritone) – Wozzeck; Reiner Goldberg (tenor) – Drum-major; Helmut Klotz (tenor) – Andres; Horst Hiestermann (tenor) – Captain; Konrad Rupf (bass) – Doctor; Rolf Wollrad (bass) – 1st apprentice; Ekkehard Wiaschiha (tenor) – 2nd apprentice; Horst Hiestermann (tenor) – Madman; Gisela Schröter (mezzo-soprano) – Marie; Gisela Pohl (contralto) – Margret; Norbert Klesse (treble) – Marie’s boy; Alois Tinschert (tenor) – soldier; Monika Vahle, Heldrun Zienecker and Frank Grundei – children.
Leipzig Radio Choir/Gerhard Richter; Dresdner Kapellknaben/Konrad Wagner
Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Kegel
rec. live, concert performance, Leipzig Kongresshalle, 9 April 1973
BERLIN CLASSICS 0184422BC [37:25 + 47:37]

 

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Herbert Kegel (1920-90) is not as celebrated as Mitropolous, Abbado, Böhm, Boulez or Barenboim – conductors of five of the most generally discussed recordings of Wozzeck. Nevertheless, this vintage Berlin Classics comes across as a highly competitive version of Berg’s disturbing masterpiece, gripping from the very opening bars. Kegel was a great champion of 20th-century music, even in the face of strong opposition (see review). In 1976, according to the biographical notes, he performed Penderecki’s Threnos while fully aware that the work was about to be banned. Like many fine conductors who single-mindedly dedicate much time and energy to contemporary music, he sacrificed his popular appeal, and his reputation is now perhaps not as high as it should be.

Kegel’s Wozzeck shows typically fine judgment – intense, but not exaggerated or overwrought, powerfully emotional without indulgence or sensationalism, lucid without being analytical. In Theo Adam we have here arguably the most magnificent Wozzeck on record. This is a wonderfully musical, human portrayal with which we may all readily identify. Adam is incapable of singing an ugly note, but this does not mean he is at all bland or lacking in emotional force. Wozzeck’s descent into madness does not have to be underlined in red to be memorably portrayed. As participants in this horrible drama, both Wozzeck and Marie could easily seem sub-human. However, Berg’s sympathetic adaptation of Büchner’s play reminds us that they are indeed flesh and blood, and Theo Adam interprets the title-role accordingly. Initially – many years ago – I assumed that Büchner must be a 20th-century playwright, until I was amazed to discover that he died in 1837.

Equally human is the Marie of Gisela Schröter, who sings with great expression and – again the key-word for this performance in general - musicianship. Also, regarding the actual notes, she makes many other exponents of this role in rival versions sound rather approximate. I found myself thinking - such is the accuracy of both Schröter and Adam – that one could actually write down the vocal line in all but the most angular passages. In fact there is no weak member of this cast.

I find this recording totally involving; a harrowing and genuinely tragic experience which leaves the listener changed – just as the very greatest drama should do. Wozzeck is such a rich and complex score that one cannot fully absorb it all in a single live performance. This music – like many masterworks from the 2nd Viennese School – demands to be recorded for close study, and I believe this particular performance will prove especially durable and satisfying.

Kegel’s interpretation of this highly demanding score is strong on nobility and he obtains some extremely beautiful playing from the Leipzig Radio Symphony. One ideal illustration would be the brief postlude before Scene 3 (track 4).

I find the recorded sound and balance very natural. The booklet is not over-generous, including brief biographical sketches of Adam, Kegel and the orchestra, and a text in German only. The playing time, in common with many recordings of this opera, is relatively short, but we should not complain when the performance is so compelling. Indeed, I see no need to compare this version with others. Its many outstanding virtues seem enhanced with repetition. Even if Kegel had recorded nothing else, he would deserve to be permanently remembered for his Wozzeck. This performance should not be missed.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

 






 


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