Keenlyside, Dalayman, Philharmonia, Esa Pekka-Salonen
Royal Festival Hall

It is a mark of any successful performance of Wozzeck – Alban Berg's masterpiece of dramatic and musical expressionism – that it leaves you completely lost for words. So thorough and far-reaching is the hatchet job it carries out on everything we assume to be the source of human dignity, and so forceful is the way Berg dramatises this moral and existential vortex in visceral, uncannily immediate music, that the only authentic response is silence.

Sadly, my job makes wordless responses rather awkward, but Esa-Pekka Salonen's semi-staged performance with the Philharmonia was certainly a success. Berg calls for a large orchestra and works every instrument hard right from the start, with tightly constructed symphonic sections demanding frequent changes of colour and style. Players and conductor must somehow keep cool heads while immersing themselves in the emotional upheavals of the music.

Though confined to a narrow strip at the front of the stage, the soloists brought fine acting and finer singing to the mix. Simon Keenlyside and Katarina Dalayman managed to convey the troubled essences of Wozzeck and Marie respectively, while Peter Hoare's tenor captured the skin-deep self-assurance of the Captain.

There is no reason why a semi-staged Wozzeck shouldn't have the same dramatic presence as a fully staged one. Unfortunately, this version tried to bridge the gap by projecting woozy fragments of live footage mingled with enormous kaleidoscopic visualisations, "colour-matched" for mood. A performance this good is impossible to ruin, but someone gave it a damn good try.

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