As a composer, Berger was very prolific writing twenty one symphonies, concertos, oratorios, eighteen string quartets, sonatas, and organ works. His violin sonata of 1964 won the Prince Rainier III Composition Award in Monaco and his Sixth String Quartet the First Prize in Liège in 1965. One of his violin concertos earned him the First Prize in Brussels in 1966. Berger also wrote a series of books about the artistic qualities of sonatas, another series about string quartets, a guidebook for concertos and books about classical composition theory.
Berger rejected the idea of avant-garde taking the view that everything is part of a huge development that started at the beginning of musical history. Berger’s music combines moderate modernism, Romanian avant-garde, sonata form and Transylvanian Protestant hymns. He stated that his musical influences were Reger, Hindemith and Schoenberg.
CPO http://naxosdirect.co.uk/labels/cpo-records have just released new recordings of Berger’s Viola Concerto, Op.12 and his Symphony No.4, Op.30 with Nils Mönkemeyer (viola) www.nilsmoenkemeyer.com and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin www.rsb-online.de conducted by Horia Andreescu www.kdmueller.eu/en/artists/conductors/51-horia-andreescu-v
The Allegro moderato of Berger’s Viola Concerto, Op.12 (1959) opens with a flowing theme for viola against pizzicato strings. As the music progresses the full orchestra enters and the viola theme becomes more passionate. Berger gives Reger, Hindemith and Schoenberg as his musical influences which might suggest to some a somewhat academic style of composition; however, this music is full of romantic fervour with even a hint of Szymanowski in its golden glow. There are glimpses of a twelve tone style but well upholstered in a romantic guise. Mönkemeyer’s tone is exemplary, moving from rich and glowing to astringent as the music requires. This is a glorious, flowing, ever developing movement which after a cadenza ends with a quiet coda.
The orchestra opens the darker more subdued larghetto to which the violins join to lift the atmosphere a little, weaving some lovely passages with Mönkemeyer drawing some lovely sonorities. The Finale. Tema con variazioni is a faster flowing series of variations, with just a hint of Bartok, that bring a multitude of moods with some lovely effects for the viola beautifully done by Mönkemeyer before leading to the dynamic close.
Berger’s two movement Symphony No.4, Op.30 (1964) is subtitled Tragic Symphony. Mysterious night sounds hover in the opening of the Allegro, meditative e serioso. The music rises to an outburst. A plaintive cor anglais is heard against a hushed orchestra with the cymbals then bass drum sounding quietly to which a fluttering flute joins. The music soon develops to a faster dynamic section, before moving to a quieter flowing passage with woodwind. There is a section where brass have a say before rising to another climax. The music alternates in mood between quieter and meditative, and louder and more agitated. There are some lovely little details in the orchestra with Horia Andreescu and the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, Berlin on fine form. Eventually the music reaches a climax, where the orchestra broadens on a horn passage as the music descends to woodwind and percussion before rising up again, then falling to a lovely quiet extended string melody. An oboe passage leads to a livelier section as the music quietly makes its way to the brilliant coda.
A slow, quiet opening for strings introduces the Largo, fervido e serioso, a calmo ma fluente before a plaintive flute is heard against the strings, which become more animated as woodwind join. The music calms before rising up in a passionate string section with percussion before dropping back. Eventually the orchestra suddenly takes off with an outburst at the start of a livelier section. Soon the volume lessens but not tempo before the music builds again, really thrusting along. Halfway through, the music drops to a quieter, slower pace with woodwind playing against a string background. Strings open a new section with woodwind interventions before they begin to rise, then fall back. The strings then broaden in a slow passage before brass enters over pizzicato strings. This leads the music forward, with individual woodwind instruments entering to take the lead, before brass and pizzicato strings return, followed by flute and strings that slowly lead to the quiet coda.
A symphony consisting of two movements marked Allegro and Largo may suggest a lack of variety but this is far from the case with each movement containing a variety of moods in each movement.
These excellently played works are very worthwhile hearing. The recording is excellent and there are detailed booklet notes.