Salzburg Festival Opening Concert 2012, Blu-ray
Program: BERG: Lulu Suite; Der Wein; MAHLER: Das klagende Lied
Performers: Anna Prohaska & Dorothea Röschmann, sop./ Anna Larsson, contralto/ Johan Botha, tenor/ Konzertvereinigung/ Vienna State Opera Choir/ Vienna Philharmonic/ Pierre Boulez
Director: Michael Beyer
Studio: C Major 711004, 2011 [6/26/12] (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 1080i HD for 16:9 color
Audio: PCM stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean
Length: 87 minutes
30 years ago would we have ever imagined that the Lulu Suite would open a Salzburg Festival? Or that Pierre Boulez would be the one to conduct it? Probably not. But it just goes to show how much composers like Alban Berg have entered the mainstream. Their time has surely come, and we will continue to sift through the ruins of the Second Viennese School to find which pieces are jewels and which are better left by the roadside.
Lulu, Berg’s unfinished opera based on the play Pandora’s Box by Frank Wendekin, is almost inconceivable without the music of Mahler. Indeed, Theodore Adorno, after hearing Berg’s Three Pieces, Op. 6, thought it to be a perfect symbiosis of “Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6 being played at the same time as Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.” Because of this, Pierre Boulez decided it was a wise programming choice to pair Berg along with Das klagende Lied, the early piece that Berg considered “a glorious work”.
Lulu is of course unfinished—Berg was at the time working on the Violin Concerto, and finishing it meant that Lulu would suffer. The opera is substantially complete musically with the exception of some patches, but the orchestration left dry, though there are some indications. When Helene Berg, the composer’s widow, approached Arnold Schoenberg about completing it, he acquiesced but then changed his mind when he saw how much work it really entailed. As a result the next 40 years saw only Acts I and II presented, with the Suite from Act III serving as the final act. Friedrich Cerha finally made the completion which was shown the first time in the USA in 1979, and has become the de facto version ever since. Anna Prohaska has a voice that seems tailor made for the role and gives a spectacular performance here.
Der Wein is a concert aria based on a poem of Stefan George, also performed to fitted perfection by Dorothea Röschmann in a performance of great beauty.
Das klagende Lied is one of Mahler’s oldest surviving scores, and has a tortured compositional and performance history. Originally it featured several offstage orchestras along with forces that called for six harps! When it became evident that it would be difficult getting the work performed, Mahler revisited the score, eliminating the first movement, greatly reducing the number of vocal soloists, getting rid of the esoteric instruments, only to find that he was still having trouble. When in 1898 he was preparing the piece for publication, he restored the offstage orchestra, deleted movement headings, and reversed himself on some of the orchestration, giving us essentially the two-movement version played here, and which is the most common today, though some recordings (including one by Boulez) have attempted the original sprawling concept.
The piece is based on a Grimm fairy tale that tells the story of two brothers of different temperament competing for marriage with the queen. Bad brother kills good brother, whose bones are found by a wandering minstrel who decides, curiously, to make a flute out of one of them. The flute begins to sing the good brother’s voice who tells his tale, whereupon the minstrel finds the queen on the day of marriage and reveals all. The entire scene is disrupted and the castle itself falls to the ground. Not cheery stuff to be sure, and the music is not the Mahler we would come to know, but it is still worthwhile and highly dramatic. Boulez and forces play it for all it’s worth. Sound is offered in standard stereo and excellent DTS 5.1 surround, with good, sensible, and not too intrusive camera work.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.