There is no shortage of recordings of Berg’s Lyric Suite. Both in the version for string quartet and in the version for chamber orchestra: the choices are many. Whether it was Berg’s intention we cannot really know for certain, but we assume it was: the last movement, the Largo Desolato, may also be sung.
Theodor Adorno, Berg’s pupil and confidant, considered the work to be an almost latent opera and that makes sense. Adorno was one of the few who knew about Berg’s affair with the married Hanna Fuchs, for whom he composed the work. For Berg, Fuchs was not only his lover and muse, but also his Isolde and his Lulu.
It is not the first time, by the way, that the poem by Baudelauire, the source of inspiration for the last part of the quartet, is actually sung. The Kronos Quartet and Dawn Upshaw had already recorded the version in 2003, there is also a recording by Quator Diotima with Sandrine Piau. The “Emersons”, however, offer us both versions: with and without vocals.
The decision to link Berg’s Lyric Suite to the songs of Egon Wellesz is nothing less than genius. Both composers had received their training from Schönberg, who had taught them not only the twelve-tone technique, but also to use a large dose of expressionism. Something you hear very clearly in the cycle Sonette der Elisabeth Barrett Browning.
That the songs are not performed more often is not only strange, but also a great shame. Of course, this has everything to do with the “once forbidden and then forgotten” attitude, which has also been fatal for Eric Zeisl. His short song Komm Süsser Tod makes us long for more: couldn’t there be some Zeisl added to the CD? It’s not the lack of space: at just 56 minutes, the CD is very short.
Renée Fleming’s creamy, cultured soprano and her mannerism fit the songs like a glove. The result is a beautiful cross between Gustav Klimmt and Max Beckmann. The very imaginative and expressive performance by the Emerson String Quartet adds to the overall experience. A must!
Alban Berg, Egon Wellesz, Eric Zeisl
Lyric Suite; Sonette der Ellisabeth Barrett Browning; Komm Süsser Tod
Renée Fleming, soprano; Emerson String Quartet