Berg: Wozzeck; Schoenberg, Krenek / Mitropoulos, Farrell, Dorow

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This was the first ever recording of Wozzeck, and Mitropoulos's handling of the score has seldom been equalled, let alone surpassed. The sheer fire and passion of his reading are remarkable.

This was the first ever recording of Wozzeck, preceding Karl Bohm's sumptuous DG account by 14 years. As the only mono Wozzeck in existence, therefore, it is the least adequately recorded (the orchestra is at times somewhat recessed) and it has long been famous for the conspicuous inaccuracy of most of its cast: the Doctor sings only an approximation of his written notes most of the time, and both Marie and the Captain rewrite some passages quite startlingly. But listening to it again on these beautifully presented, carefully remastered CDs I was astonished at how little these flaws matter; indeed Mitropoulos's handling of the score has seldom been equalled, let alone surpassed. The sheer fire and passion of his reading are remarkable, but so is his vivid response to the detail and the colour of Berg's score. Again and again he seems more aware than most conductors of precisely why this or that scene uses a particular musical form or dance rhythm. And he shows at times an astonishing boldness: it was decidedly risky, with singers and players quite unfamiliar with the idiom, to take the fugue in Act 2 scene 2 as fast as Mitropoulos does, but the sense of cruelty as Doctor and Captain goad Wozzeck with Marie's infidelity and as the one reliable thing in his confused world crumbles is as intensely horrible and pitiful as Berg obviously intended it to be.

But I would hate to give the impression that this is a superbly conducted Wozzeck let down by substandard singing. Mack Harrell, who stands out for his commendable accuracy, is an understated Wozzeck but not, I think, an under-acted one. His is not a familiar name now, but his inflexion of the role of Nick Shadow (in Stravinsky's first recording of The Rake's Progress) and of the beautiful lines of Virgil Thomson's Blake Songs are etched in my memory; so is his finely detailed portrait of Wozzeck as a fundamentally decent man driven to murder and suicide by a desperation that he cannot express. He was a singer of rare intelligence and sensitivity. Eileen Farrell, for all her occasional lapses, is a sympathetic, often moving Marie, and although Ralph Herbert is a conscientious rather than a vivid Doctor, 'vivid' is a positive understatement for Joseph Mordino's Captain. He is often inaccurate as to pitch but his rhythms are precise and his acting needle-sharp. Indeed it is hard at times to believe that this is a concert performance: the oppressive atmosphere of the barracks, the hectic whirl of the dance scenes, the horrifyingly abrupt violence of the murder are as gripping as in any live recording in a theatre.

Erwartung was also a firstever recording, made in a studio that sounds rather airless because of the close focus on Dorothy Dorow's pleasing but small voice. Her efforts are little short of heroic (she sings fewer wrong notes than most exponents of the role), but the emotional range of her reading is perhaps inevitably rather narrow. Mitropoulos's understandable reluctance to obliterate her with orchestral exclamations leads to a lyrical but small-scale reading, the work's extremes unexplored. The Krenek, however (recorded, astonishingly, on the same day as Erwartung: a total of 45 minutes of hugely demanding music), is quite a discovery: an extended and passionately expressive elegy on the death of Webern, performed with intense eloquence. It is not otherwise available on CD and it adds very considerably to the value of Mitropoulos's historic, far from outdated Wozzeck.

-- Gramophone [2/1998]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SONY62759

  • UPC: 074646275924

  • Label: Sony

  • Composer: Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, Ernst Krenek

  • Conductor: Dimitri Mitropoulos

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: High School of Music and Art Chorus, New York Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic members, Schola Cantorum

  • Performer: Adolph Anderson, David Lloyd, Dorothy Dow, Edwina Eustis, Eileen Farrell, Friedrich Jagel, Hubert Norville, Joseph Mordino, Mack Harrell, Ralph Herbert


  1. Wozzeck, Op. 7

    Composer: Alban Berg

    Ensemble: High School of Music and Art Chorus, New York Philharmonic, Schola Cantorum

    Performer: Adolph Anderson, Edwina Eustis (Soprano), Eileen Farrell (Soprano), Mack Harrell (Baritone), Ralph Herbert, Friedrich Jagel (Tenor), David Lloyd (Tenor), Joseph Mordino, Hubert Norville

    Conductor: Dimitri Mitropoulos

  2. Erwartung, Op. 17

    Composer: Arnold Schoenberg

    Ensemble: New York Philharmonic

    Performer: Dorothy Dow (Soprano)

    Conductor: Dimitri Mitropoulos

  3. Symphonic Elegy, Op. 105

    Composer: Ernst Krenek

    Ensemble: New York Philharmonic members

    Conductor: Dimitri Mitropoulos