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Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Lulu (1928-35) [126:45]
Lulu - Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano)
Countess Geschwitz - Kerstin Meyer (mezzo)
Dr. Schön - Toni Blankenheim (baritone)
Alwa - Gerhard Unger (tenor)
Schigolch - Kim Borg (baritone)
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg/Leopold Ludwig
rec. live, 16-19 February and 15 March 1968, Hamburgischer Staatsoper
EMI CLASSICS 9123302 [63:20 + 63:25]

Alban Berg’s Lulu is one of those breathtaking works of art which comes around rarely - a piece which lies in wait and will leap out at people, changing their view of 20th century music forever. Its appeal lies in the horrors of its narrative, a kind of aversive love/hate life/death scenario which grasps at the banality of our existence - for which by comparison with Lulu’s life we can count ourselves fortunate.
 
Orientating myself to the qualities of this live recording I had a listen to the Oehms Classics recording OC205 conducted by Stefan Anton Reck, which is has plenty of the bumps and intensity you might expect and some gripping vocal performances, holding onto its place as a leading contender. Spread over three discs and with a reconstructed Act III, Jeffrey Tate’s budget EMI version represents good value, though the female voices are frequently more convincing than the men. There is an English language version on the Chandos label conducted by Paul Daniel which is very good, though the switch in language does change the nature of the vocal parts irrevocably - more George Bellows than George Grosz. Pierre Boulez’s Deutsche Grammophon recording is in a class of its own, and to this day probably remains first choice for a CD only version (see r eview).
 
This 1968 recording is going to be nobody’s first choice when it comes to detail and refinement in terms of the recording and the orchestra. The cymbal crash and drum at the outset knock us firmly into the second-rate in this regard, and with a certain amount of wandering stereo imagery, the occasional dip in volume and some distortion at dynamic extremes, it is the character of the performance which will have to sell this version.
 
As the blurb and booklet tell us, this performance was a significant and daring Hamburg State Opera début for soprano Anneliese Rothenberger. Her ‘charming’ image certainly didn’t seem to fit with the role of Lulu but her acting surpassed expectations, and in an interview in 1997 she looked back on this production with affection: “I was amazed at how well it sounds … I really don’t know how I learned all that in such a short time.” She only sang the role 15 times, and in the end decided to “stick with Mozart and Strauss”.
 
This is not only Rothenberger’s production and all of the roles are taken powerfully, including a remarkable Schigolch from Kim Borg. If you can listen through the rough edges there are great dramatic rewards to be found in this at times brutal performance, showing up Jeffrey Tate’s cast as really rather beige by comparison. The missing Act III in this recording was substituted with the equivalent sections taken from the Lulu Suite with added spoken texts. This is by no means as satisfactory as the completion by Friedrich Cerha, but prevented the production from ending up as a truncated two-acter and builds into quite a moving final melodrama. Unless you’ve been hardened by horror movies, the final three minutes will keep you awake at night.
 
Dominy Clements