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Schoenberg: Gurrelieder; Sir Simon Rattle; Berlin Philharmonic & soloists
Karita Mattila, Thomas Quasthoff, Sir Simon Rattle
Schoenberg: Gurrelieder; Sir Simon Rattle; Berlin Philharmonic & soloists
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #2

Schoenberg's melodic, tonal Wagnerian masterpiece Gurrelieder calls for one of the largest orchestras ever assembled on one concert platform, including 25 woodwind, 25 brass, 11 percussion, three four-part male voice choir...  more »


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All Artists: Karita Mattila, Thomas Quasthoff, Sir Simon Rattle, Arnold Schoenberg, Berlin Philharmonic
Title: Schoenberg: Gurrelieder; Sir Simon Rattle; Berlin Philharmonic & soloists
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: EMI Classics
Release Date: 6/4/2002
Album Type: Live
Genre: Classical
Style: Opera & Classical Vocal
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPCs: 724355730329, 724355730350

Schoenberg's melodic, tonal Wagnerian masterpiece Gurrelieder calls for one of the largest orchestras ever assembled on one concert platform, including 25 woodwind, 25 brass, 11 percussion, three four-part male voice choirs, and a mixed eight-part choir. Simon Rattle fondly remembers it as the "biggest score in Liverpool's Music Library." In the interview with him that's included in the liner notes, he adds: "although 400 people are involved, Gurrelieder is in fact the world's largest string quartet." Through music of sumptuous beauty, it tells the story of a king, Waldemar, whose beautiful young mistress Tove is murdered by his wife. Waldemar joins a terrifying nighttime ride of skeletons and corpses while railing against God. Although the themes and sound-world are Wagnerian, Rattle treats the score like Strauss--using a light, even ironically Mozartean touch. The effect is overwhelmingly powerful, and the work's climaxes (the skeletons' "Wild hunt" and the massive "Hymn to the sun at the end") are all the more spine-tingling for the careful restraint and generally quick tempi that have gone before. The singers couldn't be bettered. Tenor Thomas Moser has a rich baritone range perfect for the demanding role of Waldemar, the king whose lover is foully murdered. Karita Mattila is both creamy and intense as the lover in question. Philip Langridge and Anne Sofie von Otter are also in top form. Stunning. --Warwick Thompson

CD Reviews

The bones don't rattle
Jdaniel1371 | Sacramento, CA United States | 07/19/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Before Schoenberg yielded his super-abundance to God, there was the concept of Gurrelieder. It's the only reason I trust him; the only reason his later works stay in my collection and get taken for a drive once and awhile. The composition was completed, (with the exception of the final chorus), in 1901 and the ensuing orchestration was slow-going: Schoenberg set the work aside in 1903 and then finally took it up again in 1910, finishing the remainder of Part III and recasting some earlier stretches. By this time his Five Pieces and Second String Quartet were well behind him.How hard it must have been to come back to a piece seven monumental years later and recapture the orchestrational spirit of a younger self. It's not just a matter of the older Schoenberg having gained the technique to paint with more vividness and intensity-he was pretty darn good early on!-the composer had also developed an entirely new way of looking at orchestration. Those huge old swaths of sweat-stained and love-spattered red velvet-posthumously limned with the shiny rivets and staples of a new era-could have looked pretty absurd if it were anyone other than Schoenberg at the workbench. Oh, how it works.I have heard Ozawa's and Sinopoli's performances but it is the Chailly/London that I'm most intimately familiar with and therefore the one I will use to compare and contrast with Rattle's new recording. What of Rattle's new recording with the Berlin Philharmonic? In two words: slow and micromanaged. The Berliners play beautifully, voices are flatteringly recorded, and the sound stage expands as amply as one could want during climaxes, but I must report that Chailly's way with phrasing, dynamic gradations, hues, and tempi sweep me along in a way that Rattle's does not. Yes-Decca's recording for Chailly can sound claustrophobic at points, and Siegfried Jerusalem's voice can be uncomfortably up-front, but for me Chailly and his musicians "touch the infinite" in a way that eludes Sir Simon. Both capture the delicate nocturnal machinations of nature in the orchestral introduction, but with Rattle's slow speeds the music's lilt is hardly perceptible, and the long-limbed phrases fall apart, at least for this listener. Chailly's brisker tempo helps to keep phrases intact and his attention to dynamic ebb and flow lends so much to my impression of forward momentum. The first couplet of songs, (S. Jerusalem and Susan Dunn for Chailly, Thomas Moser and Karita Mattila for Rattle), is the music of stillness-our lovers turn inward while contemplating Nature in all her glory. While Moser and Mattila are ostensibly expressive, listen to how Jerusalem and especially Dunn weave in and out of Schoenberg's kaleidoscopic textures-brushing the sound here, floating above the orchestra there-I find their performances compelling. Rattle's slow tempo and seemingly willful ritardandi often break the spell for me.The next couplet of songs, tempestuous in nature and thickly orchestrated, fare much better in the Rattle recording. Rattle does wonders bringing out the mammoth, yet quicksilver textures of Schoenberg's accompaniment with clarity, and Moser's high B natural is much more tolerable than Jerusalem's. (And, unlike Chailly's Decca recording, those percussion-laden orchestral climaxes have plenty of room to breathe, thanks to EMI's recording team.)The concluding songs, leading up the the Song of the Wood Dove, just get better and better in their expression of the joyous delirium of nascent love. Anyone who has experienced true joy knows that it comes as a vaguely unsettling surprise, as does our foreknowledge of joy's ephemeral nature. To paraphrase Pablo Neruda: "la fatiga sigue, y el dolor infinito" ("weariness follows, and the infinite ache"). While Mattila's voice for Rattle is undeniably beautiful, listen to how Dunn, in song seven, colors her desire with wonder and trepidation by turns, making her Tove so much easier to relate to. Chailly is right there with her and so much more successful than Rattle with the segment that closes the song: the arching string melodies that suddenly evaporate into percussive adumbrations of death-purple flushed lips pulled apart to reveal chattering teeth; and then those bitonally employed harps, stings, and mallet instruments--listen specifically to track 7/Decca @3:13-they sound like the tingling of skin. Is there any more ecstatic moment in music than the climax of song nine, upon the words, "dying in a rapturous kiss?" While there's nothing wrong with Mattila's performance, listen to how Dunn moves from earth-shaking ardor to tremulous wonder and then perfectly dispatches that final high B natural with such abandon that I can only shake my head in gratitude. (Track 9/Decca.) In Waldemar's "afterglow" song, song ten, Rattle and Moser perform it tenderly, but in the present tense; while Chailly and Jerusalem foreshadow the music with a touching sense of sadness as well-they capture that "infinite ache."In the Song of the Wood Dove, (I played piano in the chamber version of this work last year), Schoenberg jumps ahead stylistically. Rattle highlights the new, while Chailly perfumes Schoenberg's novel sounds with a bucolic fragrance that, to my ears, helps keep the song in step with the rest of the piece. Chailly's arrival of the Falcon is truly overwhelming in its sense of terrible majesty. And so it goes. As you can see, I might as well be King Waldemar and Sir Simon Rattle might as well be my abandoned queen at this point. I am ending my thoughts here, as Part I holds the most valuable music for me, and nothing Rattle has done in Part II and III has cast a new light-in other words-changed the way I hear Part I in any kind of a revelatory or persuasive way.John Smyth"
Artistic dishonesty!
Eric D. Anderson | 08/09/2002
(1 out of 5 stars)

"This is a scandal! EMI's website announces that this is a 'live recording'. I thus bought the set, only to discover later from the news that this is not so. In fact, the voice of Karita Mattila has been dubbed on a pre-recorded track of the orchestral part of her songs while the other parts are recorded at live performances. Why can't the original soprano in the live performances be featured? That's a gross insult to the original artist of the performances as well as purchasers of this recording, and in particular those that have bought the set relying on EMI's claim as regards the nature of this recording. The performance itself isn't good at all. Mattila isn't on her top form even in the studio and she sounds detached, which is just natural given the absurd circumstances for the recording. The tenor can't cope with his high-lying music. The BPO and the chorus are both far too subdued for this red-blooded work, and the conducting of Rattle is unimaginative. A bitter disappointment!"
Romantic Schoenberg
D. A Wend | Buffalo Grove, IL USA | 01/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Listeners new to this work by Arnold Schoenberg will be astonished by the lush romanticism of the orchestration, so foreign to the twelve tone system that he developed. This work is an early one that had such a long gestation period that it crossed into the period when Schoenberg no longer wrote the kind of music represented by the Gurrelieder. Such was his affection for this enormous work, part oratorio, part song cycle and operatic in spirit that he completed the work in the style that he had begun it. Gurrelieder (Songs of Gurre) are based on poems by the Danish author Jens Peter Jacobsen and tells of the 12th century King Waldemar and his love for the beautiful Tove. Waldemar does not count on the jealousy of his wife who has Tove murdered. The king, out of grief, curses God and is condemned with his followers to rise from their graves each night and wander the Earth. The orchestra is enormous and was so time consuming that Schoenberg was occupied with the score for over ten years. The beauty and power of this work is incredible and those who don't care for Schoenberg's modern creations should listen to the Gurrelieder. This recording received a Gramophone award as the best Choral album of 2002. Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic are superb in creating Schoenberg's sound world and the soloists could not be better. Tove is sung by Karita Mattila, Waldemar by Thomas Moser and Queen Waldtaube by Anne Sofie von Otter. This is unforgettable music that deserves to be better known."