A Luminous Performance of Schönberg's GURRELIEDER
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 11/14/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Arnold Schönberg's symphonic/operatic/song cycle/cantata GURRELIEDER, composed between 1900 -1911, is one of the greatest homages to the era of Romanticism that many felt was crowned by Richard Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde' and 'Parsifal'. The fact that the man who would so emphatically impact the change in music for the new century created it places it in a special aura. It is a work of extraordinary orchestration and writing for the voice, a gigantic creation for large orchestra and large mixed and male choruses, five soloists and speaker (one of the many subtle reminders of Schönberg's innovative thoughts - Sprechstimme - that would become so important later) that tells the tragic medieval love story that includes a veritable tapestry of intricate, powerful emotions and leads to an overwhelmingly beautiful paean to nature.
Who better to interpret this complex work than Esa-Pekka Salonen, a man who not only has mastered the repertoire from all eras but who also is actively engaged in composing works that expand the present orchestral palette. This performance was recorded from the opening work in the Philharmonia's series 'City of Dreams: Vienna 1900 - 1935' performed earlier this year in Festival Hall in London. The score is very deeply embedded in Salonen's psyche and his ability to manage this at times unwieldy score with such precision without sacrificing the inherent lush colors and emotions is uncanny. He has chosen a first rate cast of soloists: Soile Isokoski is a soaringly beautiful Tove, Stig Andersen brings power and anguish to Waldemar, Monica Groop is Waldtaube who gives the Voice of the Wood Dove the entire spectrum of this extended aria its due, Ralf Lukas is Bauer, Andreas Conrad makes a marvelously animated Klaus the Fool, and the role of the Speaker in offered exotically by Barbara Sukowa. The Philharmonia's sound is rich and full on this recording and the men's chorus and mixed chorus (City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and Philharmonia Voices) make the extended choral portions thrilling. There are few performance of 'Gurrelieder' that match the sonically astonishing finale 'Seht, die Sonne' - the unfolding passion that creates the rising of the sun that crowns this epic work. This is as fine a recording of the too rarely heard masterpiece of Schoenberg as will likely ever to appear. Well worth the rather high price of this import. It is simply brilliant! Grady Harp, November 09"
An exciting, beatuifully transparent Gurrelieder
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 01/22/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Philharmonia has been making up for lost ground by releasing its own in-house recordings to compete with the London Sym. The two orchestras are certainly the finest in London, but I think there's a perception that the LSO is riding high with its stellar Russian conductor, Valery Gergive, while the Philharmonia has taken a back seat. Therefore it's good news that they have hired Salonen as a forward-looking music director, and the first fruit of the new partnership is this gripping, gorgeously played and recorded Gurrelieder.
Schoenberg's massive cantata, an amplified version of what Mahler did in Das Klaegende Lied, calls for such extravagant forces that any performance is an event. There are few bad performances on disc, although Simon Rattle turned in a surprisingly ineffective one on EMI a few years ago. The two lead roles, Waldemar and Tove, ideally call for the best singers of Tristand and Isolde you have at hand. For vocal splendor, I love both the Ozawa and Levine recordings, which allow us to hear the likes of Ben Heppner, Deborah Voigt, and Jessye Norman in their prime. By comparison, the Swedish quasi-heldentenor Stig Andersen and Finnish lyric soprano Solie Isokoski are second best, but both sing very stylishly, and Andersen in particular makes for a moving tragic hero.
What sets tis Gurrelieder apart, however, is Salonen. You'd expect him to provide almost x-ray transparency in Schoenberg's sparkling but very dense orchestration. You'd also expect Salonen to focus on modernist clarity than post-romantic lushness. In both instances, that's what he does. But I never expected such dramatic, almost frenzied pacing in Parts II and III. The Birmingham chorus lights up the sky. Instead of being the usual cool customer, salonen channels his inner Stokowski -- this is Gurrelieder in febrile, swaggering mode. Some of Part I is a bit underpowered, and Groop's Wood Dove isn't a highlight; she's a bit neutral compared to the great Janet Baker on EMI.
Overall, this outstanding recording augurs well for the Salonen era in London. Here's the complete cast:
Waldemar ..........................Stig Andersen
Klaus-Narr ........................Andreas Conrad
Tove ..............................Soile Isokoski
Waldtaube ...... ..................Monica Groop
Bauer ...... ......................Ralf Lukas
Sprecher ..........................Barbara Sukowa
City of Birmingham Chorus, Philharmonia Voices and Philharmonia