BERG Wozzeck / Abbado 4235872

We hear it (Abbado's new live recording) from the front row of the stalls, with a theatrical rather than a studio balance between singers and orchestra, and the sense of a real stage with real action taking place upon it is very strong: the placing and movement of the military band in Act 1 scene 3 is pretty well ideal; so are the two crowded inn-scenes. More important still, one is aware that this is a genuine performance, not a studio replica of one. A tiny example is the way that Behrens's voice momentarily breaks with pity and guilt as Marie thanks Wozzeck for giving her his wages: it is a spur-of-the-moment thing, even an involuntary one, and certainly not premeditated; it is over in a second, but it adds a poignantly graphic stroke to her portrayal. The touch of Viennese schmalz that comes over Grundheber's Wozzeck when he says what he would do if I were a gentleman, with a hat and eye-glasses is another such moment; it tells you precisely what Wozzeck's image of genteel morality is, and how unbridgeably remote from it he knows himself to be, but I think Grundheber chose that inflexion for a Viennese audience, and might have abandoned it when repeating his performance in a studio for home listeners in Tokyo or Tucson . . . Wozzeck is an expressionist score, not a late romantic one; there is a danger that once the hideous difficulties of playing it have been mastered, an orchestra will be tempted by the obvious, just-under-the-surface kinships with Mahler to play it as though it were Mahler . . . It is good to hear Abbado resisting any temptation to gloss over the shocking brutality and savage grotesqueness that are such crucial elements of the opera's manner. His underlining of a blackly sinister waltz element in scenes where you might not expect to find it, the way that the tavern-band music has something alarming to it from the very outset are both instances of this. Happily, though, the bad habits of overtly expressionist Wozzeck performances (accuracy of pitch and rhythm sacrificed to strenuous histrionics) are met with only rarely here; indeed the emphasis in the sprechstimme passages is very much on stimme, Behrens in particular making a very good case for regarding Berg's precisely notated pitches as proof that he wanted those notes and no others.

. . . only Claudio Abbado's incisively raw, passionate, accurate vision of the score counts . . . Abbado also manages to marry the compelling specificity of Berg's music with the universal implications of Büchner's narrative . . . In a new century that looks set to repeat the inhumane horrors of previous centuries, albeit this time multiplied by technology to potentially apocalyptic excess, Abbado's chilling but deeply compassionate reading of the story of a man exploited, brutalised, cast off and destroyed by the world he lives in chimes painfully, puissantly, with Berg's own assessment of "Wozzeck" as a 'truly timeless drama'.

He was in many ways the perfect Berg conductor, able to balance the music's debts to both late romanticism and modernism perfectly, without compromising either the music's formal clarity or its emotional power. A quarter of a century after it was recorded, this still remains the finest of all Wozzeck recordings on disc.

. . . on ira en priorité soit vers Boulez pour cette extraordinaire violence dramatique qui naît de moyens purement musicaux . . . Le spectacle de Vienne mis en scène par Dresen et dirigé par Abbado est réaliste et littéral mais non sans poésie, avec des protagonistes d'exception . . . à la fois âpre et tendre.

Lecture lyrique, pétrie d'émotion, jamais analythique, portée par un sens du théâtre clouant. Tous chantent d'abord, rendant à Berg sa poétique. La Marie de Behrens est sans égale.