Karl Böhm

Berg: Wozzeck

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All honor and glory to Alban Berg's Wozzeck, the most passionate, the most compassionate, the most musical, and the most political opera of the twentieth century. The passion of the music, the compassion of the drama, the expressivity of the melodies, and the pathos of its characters makes Wozzeck a supreme work of art and a harrowing indictment of the world as it is. Anyone who comes away from Wozzeck unmoved by its music has no heart and anyone who comes away from Wozzeck unconverted by its message has no soul.

But let's face it, as far as the recorded evidence shows, until Pierre Boulez conducted the opera for Columbia, Berg's music had been consistently distorted by hideously out of tune playing. And as far as the recorded evidence shows, until Christoph von Dohnányi recorded the opera for Decca, Berg's message was consistently distorted by grotesquely out of tune singing. Karl Böhm's recording of the opera for Deutsche Grammophon was often on the edge of agony instrumentally and often vocally over the edge into hysteria.

And let's face it, as beautifully remastered as this Andante issue of Böhm's historic 1955 performance of Wozzeck with the Vienna State Opera is, as a performances, it's almost unlistenable. Böhm is more or less able to hold the line together but his singers are more or less out of tune most of the time and his orchestra sounds like it's more or less on the edge of collapse all of the time. No doubt they were all utterly sincere, but this is the kind of performance that used to give atonal music a bad name.

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