SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

ALBAN BERG: 7 Early Songs; Altenberg Lieder, Op. 4; 3 Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; J. STRAUSS: Wine, Women, and Song (arr. Berg) – Christiane Iven, soprano/ Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/ Marc Albrecht, conductor – Pentatone

An Audiophile’s delight. How nice that the performances live up to the sound in every way.

Published on December 29, 2009

ALBAN BERG: 7 Early Songs; Altenberg Lieder, Op. 4; 3 Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; J. STRAUSS: Wine, Women, and Song (arr. Berg) – Christiane Iven, soprano/ Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/ Marc Albrecht, conductor – Pentatone

ALBAN BERG: 7 Early Songs; Altenberg Lieder, Op. 4; 3 Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; J. STRAUSS: Wine, Women, and Song (arr. Berg) – Christiane Iven, soprano/ Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/ Marc Albrecht, conductor – Pentatone Multichannel SACD 5186 363, 59:46 ***** [Distr. by Naxos]:

What a smashing disc; I can’t get over the vividness of the surround sound. Pentatone really is doing it these days. Recently I acquired a Blu-ray player and complete high-def TV system, and to my dismay was foiled in many attempts to find an amplifier that could handle not only HDMI connections and enough component connections to make it worthwhile, but Super Audio as well. My Onkyo receiver had to go, as it could not take digital. But only their high-end unit was SACD-compatible. It seemed that Yamaha and Pioneer (and maybe Denon) were the only ones with affordable solutions—everyone else relegates SACD to either out-of-reach prices or have dropped it altogether. Especially Sony—for shame! I saw one high-end unit that handled SACD—in two channels only! And these guys started the whole thing. [Yes, some of the most expensive luxury SACD players are only two-channel. Go figure!...Ed.]

But fortunately they are not going to be the ones to finish it. SACD is hanging in there, with a lot of new releases continuing to show up. Sales people don’t help—these folks didn’t even know, with the exception of ONE I met, what Super Audio is. And it is also interesting, though debatable I guess, that most of the SA-savvy people I know still insist that the best way to hook up SA remains through the six analog cables, and not a digital solution. Interesting. [Agreed...Ed.]

But back to Pentatone. I am not going into the history of these works, among the best that Berg ever composed. Suffice it to say that one (the Seven Early Songs) is the last gasp of pure post-romantic intensity that was ever written (1905-08, though set to orchestra only in 1928), the Altenberg Lieder his entrance into expressionism, a twelve-tone beauty of such delight that you will find yourself baffled as to how you ever misjudged this music, and his Three Orchestral Pieces a strict response to Schoenberg’s criticism of both the tone and color of the Altenberg Lieder. Its trajectory is one of far more stringent serialism, though even here we can detect the debt to Mahler (and people say that Mahler had no real influence). So this program is one of great importance and consistency and gives us an overview of the path that Berg traveled between the years of 1905 and 1925.

Soprano Christiane Iven renders these songs radiantly, and the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra under Marc Albrecht plays with dazzling authority and, did I mention, incredible sound? This is a good introduction to Berg, and a necessity for his fans. Audiophiles will drool. By the way, the inclusion of Berg’s arrangement of the Strauss masterpiece makes for a nice conclusion to this disc.

– Steven Ritter




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