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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars for this uneasy pairing juxtaposing Mahler's earliest work with Berg's last-surely this must limit appeal?, 20 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Mahler: Das klagende Lied / Berg: Lulu-Suite (Audio CD)
By overwhelming popular demand-by which I mean I was overwhelmed by the kind comments of a few "populars", I have again taken the plunge and returned to reviewing. Fingers crossed!
This new release sees Boulez on familiar ground-his was the second stereo recording of the early Mahler work way back in 1969 (Wyn Morris on Delysé was the first) and he still plays the revised version which eschews the "Prologue" entitled Waldmärchen. Berg is also second nature to Boulez, so with this orchestra we had every reason to expect superb results. It's not quite the case. In his earlier recording with the LSO, the broad tempi for the opening were full of foreboding and the orchestra positively shrieked demonically on the final chords before the horn chorale entered. I was shocked by the brisk tempo and lack of dramatic emphasis adopted by Boulez in this performance-the opening passes in a very matter of fact manner, and there is little or none of the gradations the piece needs or that we expect.
There is a great deal of charming woodwind detail and solo string passages uncovered, but the whole of the first part passes as a rather charming chamber-like piece with none of the Wagnerian grandeur that Mahler intended.
This is emphasised by the recording, made live in the Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg in 2011, and it is not one of DG's best I'm afraid to say. It's VERY close miked, with soloists in your face and the orchestra not far behind. Worse, at times the mikes only appear to be catching the front 2 rows of the first and second violins, split antiphonally as ever with this great band. Thus, we have rather thin and scratchy string tone by VPO standards-not a disaster but far from ideal.
The soloists being so close results in Anna Larsson sounding "boomy" and rather blowsy-steady enough, with just the occasional threat of wobble, but not the most ingratiating tone we've ever heard. The problem is that especially shorn of its prologue, the bulk of the narrative singing falls to the mezzo, and while we can rejoice in the marvellous singing of Grace Hofmann in the earlier Boulez recording, or the incisive way with text of Fassbaender for Chailly, Larsson is no more than adequate, and only just!
Röschmann and Botha on the other hand cover themselves in glory and are 2 of the finest exponents ever of this work.
The second part which launches into its crypto-Wagnerian wedding feast with great gusto and at high speed is exciting enough, and the offstage band is superbly captured and very jaunty in a nicely sinister way, though when the full orchestra re-enters the effect is not as sharply contrasted as it could be, because either the recording or Boulez is damping down the sound. We all know Boulez favours his Horns very recessed-and here they fail to make the impact that they should. This early Mahler piece needs to be a sonic spectacular to overcome what can only be described as derivative and naÔve composition, for all that it is enjoyable, and this falls short of that. Surprisingly for Boulez, he whips up the excitement with a blistering accelerando at the end of the big wedding chorus, and pushes through the remainder at a similarly brisk tempo to the opening, and before you know it, it's all over.
It has left me very unsatisfied on repeated hearings-chorus, orchestra (what we hear of it) all give of their best, but Boulez seems to want to reduce the work to the intimacy of Wunderhorn or Kindertotenlieder, and Das Klagende Lied lacking impact is not to my taste. It's somehow very small scale.
Most surprising is the recorded sound which does the orchestra no favours, and no doubt that if that had been more sumptuous the overall effect would have been greater.
Shorn of its 30 minute prologue, and especially at this fast tempo, there is the need for another work to fill the disc, and for me this is the highlight of the disc-but then I like Berg and unfortunately I know there are countless numbers who would enjoy the Mahler but would baulk at the expressionism of The Second Viennese School.
Boulez uses the 5 movement suite with the 2 movements for soprano ( this version is minus the famous shriek), and here the more chamber like sound picture pays better dividends, though to be fair the climaxes lack the last degree of " oomph" for the same reason as in the Mahler, The soprano Anna Prohaska is utterly convincing-her eerie movement as Lulu is spine tingling, and her later movement as The Countess is similarly superb. She is the real star of this recording. Boulez adopts a flowing approach, less rhythmically punctuated than previously, and this works superbly well.
Most annoying overall is that there is little or no gain from the advantage of having the VPO in these works as the recording is restrictive and a tad dry, though unfolding plenty of inner detail, and as the music of Berg never sounds better than when played by this orchestra this generates more disappointment.
For too many, this combination of works will make for an unattractive pairing, and for those to whom both works appeal, either can be heard to better advantage on ALL counts elsewhere.
For Das Klagende Lied Chailly still reigns supreme with the Berlin RSO resplendent in Decca's superb recording and his soloists are excellent-and you get the Prologue as well.
For the Berg, Sinopoli with the Dresden Staatskapelle, Abbado with the LSO and Rattle make better alternatives-as do Boulez `s earlier recordings of both works, where the sonic differences are not as great as you might expect but the performances are in a different league. Good but not great. 3stars for the Mahler, 4 stars for the Berg. 3.5 Stars overall.. Stewart Crowe.
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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 30 Nov 2013 18:24:12 GMT
Mole says:
It is hard to imagine there being true poplar demand for your arrogant and pompous reviews. I sometimes agree with you but don't find you a reliable guide at all. But that is not what upsets me (truly truly upsets me!). What gets me is the way you are often so horribly rude to people who dare to disagree with you. That and the way you write your reviews as if you taste is (objective truth). We don't accept that sort of thing nowadays even from professional and qualified critics. It is ridiculous in a writer of Amazon punters reviews.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Nov 2013 18:54:04 GMT
Last edited by the author on 30 Nov 2013 18:56:01 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
I always read Stewart's reviews and I am not alone. What have you contributed apart from this little spurt of bile? Do you think calling someone who writes frequently with passion, knowledge and enthusiasm "arrogant and pompous" is "polite"? And where is SC so?

PS: try punctuating "punters'" literately.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Nov 2013 19:25:26 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Many thanks Ralph. I haven't actually read the comments to which you refer as I screen this perennial pest's vituperative drivel out - under the various disguises he uses in his trolling activities. I probably was a bit sharp in my last comment because I really do get tired with nit- picking comments by self appointed know alls who are so ill informed. Much of what we write is based on subjective opinion based on experience, but other elements are based on immutable factual knowledge, and there is enough rubbish to deal with without having to refute factual inaccuracies. Your support is appreciated as much as your reviews. We plough on!
As ever, S!

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Dec 2013 23:06:43 GMT
Really? says:
Thx, Mole, for saying what needs to be said.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Dec 2013 23:38:06 GMT
Mole says:
Ralph - I have no beef with you. I often like your reviews and sometimes agree with them as well. But it is interesting that you find and reply to my comment to Mr Crowe's review within 30 minutes of my posting. How did you know I had made a comment. You can get alerts about comments to your own reviews but not for comments to other reviewers. Are you and Mr Crowe one and the same? You are always stroking each other so it seems really sick to know that you may both be the same person!

PS Your jibe about my minor punctuation typo is beneath you.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Dec 2013 23:41:23 GMT
Mole says:
Mr Crowe - Your reference to disguises is a little baffling. I take it you are accusing me of doing what I just accused Ralph of doing? But I don't use disguises. Believe it or not there is more than one person out here who finds your superiority insufferable.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Dec 2013 13:56:07 GMT
Last edited by the author on 9 Dec 2013 20:01:24 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
Yes; Stewart Crowe and I are the same person; "we" are in fact one totally insane individual who incessantly posts incestuous, self-congratulatory puffs for "our" own reviews. "We" know nothing about music and are lost in a solipsistic haze of delusion and self-aggrandisement. "We" hover endlessly over "our" own postings waiting for people to post abuse because "we" have absolutely no other life.

(Oh no - sorry; that's "Hal", "Deontologist", "Really", Kah-Yon", etc. etc. I'm describing.)

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Dec 2013 15:07:32 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
As a point of interest Ralph, as you are aware I screen out Mole's comments, and those of Hal and several others-probably and mostly the same individual. However, I haven't screened out "Really?" and yet amazon have done so in this trail, as they are able to detect who is using multiple identities, and those who change the false identities behind which they hide cravenly-(to be fair, they are probably wise to do so.) This is QED in the matter of the multiple identity argument. It happens frequently.
This all arose because I was testy in my response to an ill-informed comment about how the VPO arrange their violins-you will note that no-one has commented on THIS point-probably because they haven't got a clue.
Why do they bother reading my reviews? They are free to ignore them, in fact I wish they would ignore them more freely.
Interpretation is a matter of taste-performing style is a matter of taste-even recording standards are to some degree subjective-but in between all these are facts. Challenge me by all means on any of these aspects-but if it is a challenge on facts, make sure it is in fact based on fact. Here endeth the tirade! Thanks as ever, Ralph. SC

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Dec 2013 20:00:39 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
I was testy in my response for the same reason - nor can I see how you are arrogant or offensive in your manner of presenting your - admittedly robust - opinions, and I have been reading your reviews for years. This is what annoys me: the people who contribute nothing to the forum but are so quick to find imaginary reasons for offence.

The multiple identity merchants who exist merely to insult are beneath contempt and in any case automatically screened out, as you say, when Amazon detects their origin. If, like "Hal", they are obsessive enough to create every so often new email addresses to cover a new swathe of bogus IDs, their style - quaint, toothless old-maidish carping and would-be witticisms - is instantly recognisable and you just add them instantly to the blocked list.

Posted on 1 Mar 2014 20:46:05 GMT
david says:
I stumbled into this ...whatever it is, listening to the LP version of the earlier CBS (1970?) recording of the Mahler, purchased only for the soloists, realising it must be heavily truncated and wondering what the consensus was. There seemed to be little on that version, so I tapped into this later version's reviews. The Lulu Suite is a complete waste of time: having once sat through it with Susanna Malki and the Ensemble Inter-contemporain in Paris (with the scream) and wondering whether this would put off most people from exploring the opera, which is riveting and beautiful, whereas the suite is a sort of pack of dried up dates. Horrible. I get the view that this second outing by Boulez is not so good as the first. Given also the recording provenance - from a place that lives up its own backside when the Easter and Summer music festivals are in full swing , becoming the diamond tiara capital of Europe, the place to be "seen" not necessarily to appreciate great music making, I am not surprised Mr Crowe's conclusion in this case is:

What happens in Salzburg, stays in Salzburg. Or should have done.

Now you all had a good fight, shake verbal hands and move on.
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