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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Alban Berg; Egon Wellesz - Lyric Suite; Sonnets (Emerson String Quartet; Renée Fleming)


Composer: Alban Berg; Egon Wellesz; Eric Zeisl
  • (01-08) Berg - Lyrische Suite
  • (09-12) Wellesz - Sonette der Elisabeth Barrett Browning, Op. 52
  • (13) Zeisl - Komm, süßer Tod (arr. J. Peter Koene)

Renée Fleming, soprano
Emerson String Quartet
Eugene Drucker, violin
Philip Setzer, violin
Lawrence Dutton, viola
Paul Watkins, cello

Date: 2015
Label: Decca




Although composed nearly 90 years ago, Berg’s Lyric Suite still sounds like an astonishingly modern score with a capacity to startle even those who are perfectly attuned to the more avant-garde sonorities of the later 20th century. Yet any complexity in Berg’s harmonic idiom remains subservient to the directness of his emotional message, in this particular case, one that charts the trials and tribulations of his secret love affair with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin.

The almost operatic narrative, moving from joy and ecstasy to torpor and despair in the final Largo desolato, is projected here with tremendous urgency by the Emerson Quartet. Particularly admirable is their brilliance and accuracy in the formidable semiquaver passagework that opens the third movement, and their careful balancing of the musical line in the more intricate textures of the ensuing Adagio appassionato.

The Emersons supplement their outstanding Lyric Suite with a sensitive account of the last movement in an arrangement for voice and string quartet. It’s a setting of a poem by Baudelaire which was inscribed in a copy of the published score that the composer sent to his mistress in order to explain the hidden programmatic subtext of the work. As the vocal line is embedded in the pre-existing string parts, Renée Fleming delivers the evocative text in a deliberately subdued manner. In contrast, she opens up a much greater range of colours and emotions in Wellesz’s Sonette der Elisabeth Barrett Browning. This fascinating cycle, dating from 1934, is imbued with a similar level of expressionist angst as the Berg, but Wellesz does not go as far as his contemporary in repudiating conventional tonality.

-- Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine

More reviews:


Alban Berg (February 9, 1885 – December 24, 1935) was an Austrian composer. Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years (1904-1911) and they remained close lifelong friends. Berg is remembered as one of the most important composers of the 20th century and to date is the most widely performed opera composer among the Second Viennese School. His compositions  combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. He is considered to have brought more "human values" to the twelve-tone system, his works seen as more "emotional" than Schoenberg's.


Egon Wellesz (21 October 1885 – 9 November 1974) was an Austrian, later British composer, teacher and musicologist. Wellesz studied in Vienna under Arnold Schoenberg, purportedly his first private pupil, as well as Guido Adler. Wellesz left Austria for England in the wake of the Anschluss. Altogether he wrote nine symphonies and an equal number of string quartets. Other compositions by him include operas, an octet, piano and violin concertos (one of each), and a suite for violin and orchestra. Despite his composing, Wellesz remains best known for his extensive scholarly contributions to the study of Byzantine music.


Emerson String Quartet is a professional string ensemble. Choosing American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson as namesake, the Quartet was formed at the Juilliard School as a student ensemble and turned professional in 1976. When it was formed, the Emerson Quartet was one of the first with the two violinists alternating chairs. Its current members include: Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer (violins), Lawrence Dutton (viola), and Paul Watkins (cello). As of May 2014, they have released more than thirty albums and won nine Grammy Awards, as well as the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize.


Renée Fleming (born February 14, 1959) is an American opera singer and soprano. Fleming has a full lyric soprano voice. She has performed coloratura, lyric, and lighter spinto soprano operatic roles in Italian, German, French, Czech, and Russian, aside from her native English. A National Medal of Arts and Richard Tucker Award winner, she regularly performs in opera houses and concert halls worldwide. Her repertoire encompasses Richard Strauss, Mozart, Handel, bel canto, lieder, French opera and chansons, jazz and indie rock. Fleming has released a number of music recordings on the Decca label.


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