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Schoenberg: Gurrelieder / Gielen, Diener, Naef, Et Al

Release Date: 10/09/2007 
Label:  Swr Music   Catalog #: 93198   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Arnold Schoenberg
Performer:  Robert Dean SmithYvonne NaefMelanie DienerGerhard Siegel,   ... 
Conductor:  Michael Gielen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  South German Radio Symphony OrchestraMiddle German Radio Chorus LeipzigBavarian Radio Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 2 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHOENBERG Gurrelieder Michael Gielen, cond; Melanie Diener ( Tove ); Yvonne Naef ( Wood-Dove ); Robert Dean Smith ( Waldemar ); Andreas Schmidt ( Spkr ); Bavarian RCh; Middle German RCh Leipzig; South German RSO HÄNSSLER 93.198 (2 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 121:56 Text and Read more Translation)

Gurrelieder sums up the entire late-Romantic era, setting a mythical epic: the sudden death of his beloved Tove sends King Waldemar careening into madness, where he rebukes God and swears to “crush your angel guard and barge with my wild huntsmen into heaven” to rejoin her. The young Schoenberg (26 when he began, 36 when he finished) was a devoted admirer of Brahms, yet he proceeded to emulate Wagner, writing a vast, seething oratorio on a Baroque scale, bathed in orchestral splendor. It has enjoyed several superb recordings, beginning in 1932, on 27 78-rpm sides. Impossible as it may seem, that stone-age monaural recording captured the wonders of the piece and may still be enjoyed on CD today, thanks to the musical and auditory genius of Leopold Stokowski. After several lesser attempts (Kubelík, Boulez, Ozawa), Riccardo Chailly led an ideal performance for Decca/London in 1985. A magnificent 1991 Zubin Mehta live performance was ruined when Sony dubbed in Eva Marton—insecure in her role and in poor voice—in place of Susan Dunn, who had outdone even her stellar Tove for Chailly. The most successful of recent recordings has been by James Levine on Oehms Classics, loaded with vocal stars: Heppner, Voigt, Meier.

Gielen has a superb feeling for the work, unmatched since Stokowski; his SWR Symphony has all the power and sweep one could want, but its strings are not as glamorous, nor its woodwinds as colorful, as Chailly’s Deutsches Symphony Berlin or Mehta’s New York Philharmonic. This lengthy work, much of it in slow tempos, can have moments of languor. Chailly solved the problem by speeding things up, and his was a totally successful solution. Gielen is the first to make every moment work at slower tempos; even Levine’s superb performance is outclassed. Smith is a warm-voiced, passionate Waldemar (whose part has the majority of vocal solos); that his top hardens a bit under pressure fits well with that King’s anguish and eventual madness. Much of the time, I like Smith as well as Chailly’s Siegfried Jerusalem (in perhaps his finest recorded performance). Diener’s Tove is well sung but outclassed by some magnificent singers among the competition; Naef’s Wood-Dove lacks the vocal beauty of Mehta’s Florence Quivar and the dramatic anguish of Chailly’s Brigitte Fassbaender. The men in part II (Gerhard Siegel’s Klaus the Fool, Ralf Lukas’s Bauer) are excellent. So is Andreas Schmidt as the narrator, but Hans Hotter, the great old Wagnerian baritone, came to own the part in his seventies and eighties, appearing for both Chailly and Mehta. Having seen Hotter carry the finale in New York in 1991, oozing character as well as dignity, I cannot imagine any other artist equaling him. Gielen’s multiple choruses are superb, surpassed only by Mehta’s New York Choral Artists.

The recording was made over four days in October of 2006, in two venues: Konzerthaus Freiburg and Alte Oper Frankfurt. This suggests that these discs may be of live performances, but the booklet never quite says so, referring only to the success of this concert on the tour. The recorded sound is stunning—even on the CD layer. The low end is thrilling, be it a single note from a tuba or the tumult of Schoenberg’s gigantic forces. If the top is occasionally harsh, that is the composer, the orchestra, and possibly the acoustic setting we are hearing—this music is beautiful but never pretty. SACD softens the top, and surround sound envelops us in a wondrous sonic world. While Chailly remains my top recommendation on CD, anyone who has a multichannel system must also have this fine, first-SACD Gurrelieder.

FANFARE: James H. North
This is a Super Audio CD playable only on Super Audio CD players. Read less

Works on This Recording

Gurrelieder by Arnold Schoenberg
Performer:  Robert Dean Smith (Tenor), Yvonne Naef (Mezzo Soprano), Melanie Diener (Soprano),
Gerhard Siegel (Tenor), Ralf Lukas (Baritone), Andreas Schmidt (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Michael Gielen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  South German Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Middle German Radio Chorus Leipzig,  Bavarian Radio Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1900-1911; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 121 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Language: German 
Notes: Konzerthaus, Freiburg, Germany (10/28/2006 - 10/31/2006); Alte Opera, Frankfurt, Germany (10/28/2006 - 10/31/2006) 

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