Recital Review: Berg: Romantic To Maverick

Berg: Romantic to Maverick, 

Opera Australia

The Opera Centre, Sydney

3 February, 2019

Berg: Romantic to Maverick, a recital of Art Song by Alban Berg and his contemporaries, discerningly complemented Opera Australia’s presentation of Alban Berg’s epochal opera Wozzeck, currently in its season at the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House. Soprano Taryn Fiebig, mezzo-soprano Ruth Strutt and pianist Tahu Matheson performed an engaging cache of rarely heard songs from this late 19th century song book.

The pinnacle of the recital was a selection of five songs from Berg’s Seven Early Songs, composed       c 1905-1908, approached and succeeded by lieder from the composers who influenced and who were influenced by Berg and the Second Viennese School.

Although Berg’s name is inextricably a member of that triumvirate, with Webern and Schonberg, his music was not always atonal and the Seven Early Songs express a rich tonality and romantic expressivity in stark contrast to the atonic even brutal sounds of Wozzeck and the style for which Berg became renowned. Berg’s early writing was strongly influenced by Mahler, Wagner and others of the era and aesthetic. Schoenberg found Berg’s songs to be of a style ”between Hugo Wolf and Brahms.” Appropriately, Taryn Fiebig opened the recital with Mahler’s Frühlingsmorgen. Continuing the trajectory towards the Berg excerpts, were the intensely dramatic songs of Franz Schreker, performed by both Taryn Fiebig and Ruth Strutt and the impressionistic Nocturne by Josef Marx, performed by Taryn Fiebig.

Journeying forward from the Seven Early Songs, we heard songs by Schoenberg, from his Brettl Lieder and opus 2 collection, more songs by Berg, a substantial collection by Alexander von Zemlinsky – Schonberg’s brother-in-law, and in a nod to Webern, Taryn Fiebig straddled her cello to perform two pieces for cello and piano, from 1899, both titled Langsam.

The singers captivated with their dramatic narratives, underpinned by superb technique and vocal power. Tahu Matheson complemented the singers with his performance of the richly symphonic, idiomatic instrumental part.

Taryn Fiebig delighted with a range of characterisations from the coquettish Gigerlette and the layered richness of Erhebung by Schoenberg to the exquisite shading of Marx’s Nocturne. The two voices were complementary yet contrasting. Ruth Strutt’s lustrous timbre and impressive range was well suited to this repertoire.

Finally, all three performers came together for a memorable rendition of Zemlinsky’s 6 Songs, opus 6.

There were too many songs to easily accommodate the text in the programme. However, advance notice of the song list would have enabled a glance at the words to understand what was being sung and to fully appreciate the stories in song. As well, there was no mention of the poets or librettists whose words would be intrinsic to the understanding and appreciation of the songs, and whose words would have inspired the songs in the first place.

Like the recital of Szymanowski songs during the recent season of King Roger, concerts like these are a welcome complement, offering audiences a more complete insight into opera and its composers and undoubtedly giving the singers an opportunity to sing fresh repertoire in a different setting.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

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