Recordings > Choral and Song

MAHLER: Das Klagende Lied
BERG: "Lulu" Suite

spacer Prohaska, Röschmann, Larsson; Botha; Vienna Philharmonic, Boulez. Texts and translations. DG 477 9891

BoulezMahlerBergCD

Pierre Boulez was eighty-six years old when he revisited these two landmarks of his symphonic repertoire at the Salzburg Festival in 2011. He remains a fervent advocate for Mahler's Klagende Lied. Indeed, his work here could be mistaken for that of a twenty-something conductor eager to get to the post-concert party. Except for the very opening of the piece, in which Boulez elicits a sweet "once upon a time" quality, and the desolate coda, Boulez revels in the tumbling series of events. It's as if Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony and Brünnhilde's awakening from Wagner's Siegfried all got drunk and started making out together in a malfunctioning elevator. Yet Boulez is in complete command, down to moments such as the violins producing precise pizzicato tones a sixteenth-note apart. The players of the Vienna Philharmonic brook no competition in this repertoire; the trombones respect Mahler's crass phrasing while maintaining beauty of tone, the three violin soloists blend their sounds while producing identical articulations, and the eighteen-member offstage band is having its own party in the wings. Met operagoers who know Dorothea Röschmann only from Mozart roles will be surprised at the power she commands in the title song. Johan Botha gets the job done in the strenuous tenor part, but Anna Larsson's alto is not always under control. The overall performance is a delightful fairy tale in primary colors.

Boulez was in the orchestra pit when Berg's Lulu finally got a proper premiere in its full three-act version in 1979. Here Boulez revisits Berg's five-movement suite from the opera. When he recorded the suite with the New York Philharmonic more than three decades ago, the performance was especially notable for the Ivesian quality of the cross-fades. With the Vienna players he adds a sultry, blended, hyper-Romantic sound from the strings. The enormous fifth movement is throbbing, menacing and insistent. It's a fascinating contrast with the studio recording of James Levine, another conductor with experience of Lulu in the theater, who sees the suite as an abstract musical argument of enormous gravity, one with an inexorable build to the fifth movement. Quite a number of sopranos who would never sing the role of Lulu in the theater (Judith Blegen, Kathleen Battle, Renée Fleming) have recorded the suite. Here, Anna Prohaska shows that she is ready for the complete assignment. She absolutely seizes the "Lied der Lulu," using her seemingly sizable voice for a forceful performance that shows exactly how the song fits into the larger opera. The Vienna musicians again have a unique tone. Nobody else can observe Berg's instruction "like a barrel-organ" so fully yet so beautifully. spacer 

WILLIAM R. BRAUN

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Current Issue: October 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 4