This impressive release, superbly recorded, includes Berg’s Seven Early Songs, impressionistic and expressive gems, sung voluptuously by Susanna Phillips – Richard Strauss-ravishing in fact – and how sensitive and accommodating the SFS and MTT are to her. German texts and English translations are included in the booklet, although Phillips’s revealing word-painting and voice-colouring rather mitigate their need.
Placed first on the disc, although its Berg’s final music (he died aged fifty on Christmas Eve 1935), is the Violin Concerto, written for Louis Krasner and “in memory of” the eighteen-year-old Manon Gropius, “an angel”. Once again, the SFS is an immaculate and bespoke partner, while Gil Shaham gives an open-hearted, intense and poignant account of the solo part, tonally varied and spot-on in terms of intonation for inviting music that flirts wistfully with nostalgia and sears with emotional rage, until concluding with Bach-inspired serene acceptance. This compelling account covers all the work’s bases.
The Three Pieces for Orchestra, a masterwork if ever there was, is outstandingly performed, not only fearlessly and precisely played (Berg’s demands are many) and vividly detailed, but lived and breathed beyond the rigour of the composition itself, so that the concluding ‘March’ is spine-tingling yet chilling as this amazing music – prescient of conflagration – heads to catastrophic Mahler 6-like hammer-blows, delivered with uncompromising and devastating force (I was nearly out of my chair) and audiophile-gratifying reproduction, every strand of Berg’s complex scoring pinpoint clear. Stunning. SFS Media 0080 [SACD].