Christoph von Dohnányi

Alban Berg: Wozzeck; Arnold Schoenberg: Erwartung

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This set brings together two of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century. Alban Berg's Wozzeck has always been difficult for audiences to absorb but since World War II it has been performed with some regularity by all of the major opera houses of the world. On the other hand, Arnold Schoenberg's Erwartung is heard most often in concert because of its length (just about 30 minutes) and it has only one character and little dramatic movement. Both scores are always presented complete both on stage and on recordings so that is not an issue. More at issue is the accuracy of the singers in finding the notes that Berg wrote.

The historic recording conducted by Mitropoulos has a wonderful feeling for the sweep of the opera, but the singers come nowhere near Berg's written pitches. Other recordings are better but this London recording is the first where most of the singers follow Berg's notation. In Wozzeck, Anja Silja is an excellent Marie. In spite of all the hard use the voice retains a youthfulness and she is one of the most accurate singers found on any recording of this opera. Her Bible reading scene is a moment of great dramatic intensity. Eberhard Waechter is her equal as Wozzeck. Fischer-Dieskau may bring more subtlety to the character but he also loses Berg's pitches at times. The trio of tenors, Zednik, Winkler and Laubenthal, are excellent. They have the style and vocal assurance to bring their characterizations to life. As the Doctor, Alexander Malta comes as close to singing all of the notes as is possible and his malevolence permeates his every scene. The secondary roles are very well sung. In his monodrama Erwartung Arnold Schoenberg asks everything of his soprano soloist, total control of the dynamic range, fiercely dramatic declamation and then lyric lines with the tenderest soft singing. Anja Silja is in total control of her voice and of this role. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is of the highest caliber. Christoph von Dohnanyi keeps everything in balance and creates a fine sense of the mood of both operas.

There are several very fine recordings of Wozzeck which should be considered. The early Mitropoulos performance is of great historic significance because of the conducting, but it is really only a supplement since none of the singers comes within hailing distance of the score. The Bohm and the Abbado recordings are just favored by many listeners but I believe that this London set is the best overall version of Wozzeck. A choice for an Erwartung is complicated by the fact that this is a two disc set. If you are interested only in Erwartung, the Philips recording with Jessye Norman is excellent with a much more sensuous approach to the score. You cannot go wrong with either recording.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 5:37
2 3:16
3 7:05
4 4:59
5 4:00
6 8:06
7 3:22
8 3:08
9 2:28
10 4:17
11 4:55
12 4:48
13 1:50
14 3:31
15 4:56
16 5:00
blue highlight denotes track pick