Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Arnold SCHOENBERG Pelleas und Melisande Op. 5
Richard WAGNER Siegfried -Idyll

Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin/Christian Thielemann
Deutsche Grammophon 4690082 [DDD 65:17]
  AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

Few conductors, if any, of the younger generation can claim to have developed the formidable mastery of the late romantic repertory that Christian Thielemann communicates with such natural instinct. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that in Schoenberg's darkly brooding Maeterlinck inspired symphonic poem he directs a performance which is hugely impressive, both in its interpretative maturity and in the lush, magnificently honed playing which he draws from the orchestral forces of the Berlin Opera.

Cast in a series of continuous sections yet within the framework of a symphonically conceived structure, Schoenberg's score is a fascinating, deeply intense maelstrom of constantly shifting psycho-emotional angst and ecstasy. Completed early in 1903, the composer had recently spent a period of time in Berlin where he had come under the influence and guidance of Richard Strauss. Indeed Strauss had been a considerable source of encouragement to the young Schoenberg, a fact that is readily discernible in the score, as is the influence of Mahler.

From the ominous opening bars Thielemann creates a heady atmosphere, imbued with a tension which he manipulates with great skill. One can sense immediately that the orchestra is at the end of his fingertips such is the degree of control that he exhibits. The build up to the first apocalyptic climax (track two 2'10") is a fine example, the release of tension at 1'42" deftly handled before the full power of the fortissimo is unleashed (mention must be made of the recording here which features some magnificently wide ranging dynamics, listen out for the bass drum!). The more scherzando like material which follows in track three (Lebhaft) demonstrates impressive inner detail from the woodwind and again in track four (Sehr rasch) there is a carefully achieved transparency in the balance between woodwind and strings, a striking aspect of much of the recording. Track six (Langsam) is wonderfully heart rending and once again Thielemann shows his mastery in bringing to the surface every nuance of Schoenberg's emotional roller coaster. The ethereal sense of mystery at the beginning of track ten (In gehender Bewegung) sends a shiver down the spine whilst track eleven (Breit) brings the work to an enigmatic conclusion (just listen to the way the trumpets relax and crescendo out of the climax around 1'10" for a demonstration of the clarity and detail of thought that has gone into this performance). The slow tread from around 5'00" to the end complete with its menacing muted brass at 5'20" is truly chilling.

Wagner's Siegfried-Idyll comes almost as light relief after the highly charged Schoenberg yet the same degree of attention to dynamic and textural detail is evident, this time combined with a charm entirely befitting of a work which had close sentimental associations for the composer and which he cherished for much of his life.

The booklet notes make the claim that Christian Thielemann "can rightly be seen as one of the last orchestral conductors to uphold the tradition of such grand old men as Furtwängler, Celibidache and Karajan". Judging by this performance of the Schoenberg alone it would be difficult to disagree. However, I would prefer to think of him as the first in a new generation of conductors possessing the individuality and depth of expression to place this repertory before a new younger audience. Only time will tell. In the meantime this is a fine disc that anyone with an interest in early Schoenberg or late romanticism will not want to be without.

Christopher Thomas

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: