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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Gurre-lieder for soloists, choirs and orchestra (1900-03/1910-11) [102:58]
Alwyn Mellor (soprano) - Tove; Anna Larsson (mezzo) - Waldtaube/Wood Dove; Stuart Skelton (tenor) - Waldemar; Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (tenor) - Klauss Narr/Klauss the Fool; James Creswell (bass) - Bauer/Peasant; Sir Thomas Allen (speaker)
Bergen Philharmonic Choir; Choir of Collegiūm Mūsicūm; Edvard Grieg Choir; Orphei Drängar Choir; Choir of Students of the Royal Northern College of Music
Musicians from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (The National Orchestra of Sweden)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. live, Bergen, December 2015
CHANDOS CHSA5172(2) SACD [56:12 + 46:46]

Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder is firmly tonal and looks back to the Late-Romantic tradition; indeed scales its pinnacle. There's a strong Wagnerian influence - not Mahler nor Richard Strauss. Afterwards the composer was to turn his back on tonality and alienated the average music-lover in leading the way into the ‘new music’ that prevailed and dominated for much of the remainder of the twentieth century.

Schoenberg chose as the text for these orchestral songs, 'Songs of the Gurre' (Gurrelieder) by the Danish poet and novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847-85), whose writings were much favoured by Frederick Delius. Put briefly, the work’s story concerns the 12th century King Waldemar of Denmark who lived in the castle of Gurre on the Danish coast, and who fell deeply and blindly in love with a beautiful young maiden called Tove. Unsurprisingly, his Queen was madly jealous, and she murdered Tove. Grief-stricken, Waldemar cursed God for his loss. As punishment for this blasphemy, Waldemar, and his vassals, were condemned to ride the sky forever in a vain search for the late-lamented Tove.

The composer uses huge choral and orchestral forces including four flutes, four piccolos, five oboes, seven clarinets, three bassoons, ten horns, seven trumpets, seven trombones, one tuba, six timpani and a massive battery of percussion, four harps, celesta and a more than substantial string section.

The strength of this new Chandos recording is in its sonic splendour. The sound is demonstration class. Gardner here, drawing on his operatic experience, brings out all the sensuality and melodrama of Late-Romantic excesses inherent in Schoenberg’s massive score.

Stuart Skelton is a marvel, utterly sincere and convincing in the role as the tortured, troubled Waldemar, ecstatically besotted in embracing his passion for Tove. He is tortured when he discovers her death and noisily and uncompromisingly vindictive as he rails against the heavens. Yet there is a pathos and a vulnerability shown too as well as white heat anger. Alwyn Mellor’s Tove is passionate enough, maybe a little more yielding and cautious might have been more on the mark? However Anna Larsson’s Wood Dove lacked expression. On the other hand, I was drawn to Klaus the Fool’s (Ablinger-Sperrhacke) expressive, droll and witty condemnation of the cursed eternal ride of Waldemar and his men. Thomas Allen, after the passing of the summer wind, delivers a note of redemption and optimism echoed by the glorious final chorus – ‘Behold the Sun …’.

Ian Lace

Previous reviews: Dan Morgan ~ Dave Billinge



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