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Schoenberg: Moses und Aron / Duesing, Conrad, Boder

Schoenberg / Bochumer Symphoniker / Boder
Release Date: 09/28/2010 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2058178  
Composer:  Arnold Schoenberg
Performer:  Michael SmallwoodKarolina GumosFinnur BjarnasonAndreas Conrad,   ... 
Conductor:  Michael Boder
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bochum Symphony OrchestraChorwerk Ruhr
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Dale Duesing (Moses), Andreas Conrad (Aron), Ilse Eerens (Ein junges Mädchen/a young girl), Karolina Gumos (Eine Kranke/an invalid), Finnur Bjarnason (Ein junger Mann/a young man), Michael Smallwood (Der nackte Jüngling/the naked youngling), Boris Grappe (Ein anderer Mann - Ephraimit/another man - Ephraimit), Renatus Mészár (Ein Priester/a priest), Ilse Eerens, Hanna Herfurtner, Karolina Gumos, Constance Heller (Vier nackte Jungfrauen/four naked virgins), Hanna Herfurtner, Karolina Gumos, Constance Heller, Michael Smallwood, Martin Gerke, Dong-Won Seo (Sechs Solostimmen/six solo parts)

Bochumer Symphoniker, ChorWerk Ruhr, Michael Boder

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SCHOENBERG Moses und Aron Michael Boder, cond; Dale Duesing ( Moses ); Andreas Conrad ( Aron ); ChorWerk Ruhr; Bochum S EUROARTS 2058178 (DVD: 106:00) Live: Bochum 2009

Bochum is a city in the Ruhr, nestled between Essen and Dortmund. Jahrhunderthalle Bochum is a gigantic industrial building—remnants of the power plant of a former steel works—into which at least three theaters have been built. This one consists of two stepped tiers of seats facing each other, with a meter-wide space between them. Moses appears seated in the audience as he pleads with God (three female and three male voices) not to make him His prophet. Dressed in a dark suit, he makes his way slowly down to that narrow space, stripping to his undershorts as he goes. This raised a warning flag, but the production is by no means Eurotrash, and his near-naked self comes to seem appropriate, his body as bare and as vulnerable as his mind and his soul. As Aron arrives, the two tiers of seats slowly slide apart, revealing a performing space adjustable for each scene. There are no sets and few props: Moses’ rod, the golden calf, a stage-wide paper sheet upon which the commandments are inscribed, plus two images screened on a temporarily lowered scrim. The cast is dressed as ordinary people of today, all in dark blues, grays, and black. Lighting is stark, brilliant yet subtle. Camera angles include looking straight down from above, the dark chorus a swirling corps de ballet against a white stage.

I have started with all this visual detail because it lies at the heart of this production, which strips the drama to bare essentials, paying far less attention to the music. Andreas Conrad sings winningly, with color and clarity, but the acting of both principals takes precedence; his Aron, an uncertain human open to all influences—from God, Moses, and/or his people—is a sympathetic figure. At one point, he seems to ask himself, without words: Am I responsible for all this? I was only trying to help my people. Dale Duesing—one of the finest baritones of his day—proves to be a great actor as well, using his potent delivery and expressive face and body to depict Moses’s rock-solid convictions, his mind torn by his inability to communicate his vision to his people or even to his brother. There is little question as to which side Schoenberg is on.

The orchestra—placed on a raised platform somewhere in this confusingly structured theater—is a surprisingly minor contributor, at times visibly present but distantly heard. The Bochum Symphony offers no challenge to the Vienna State Opera Orchestra on Daniele Gatti’s Arthaus DVD or the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on Deutsche Grammophon CDs. The choral singing is a bit shrill and unclear; the chorus achieves a high level of acting, individually and in flowing group movement. The sacrifice and orgy are meant to be shocking scenes—otherwise they make no contribution to this drama—so it’s not surprising that today’s directors go all out in that direction. Four naked women appear, are ogled by the women in the chorus, and then disappear among the crowd of men. When the scrum breaks, the four women lie dead, bathed in blood. The chorus then strips (it looks as though individuals were given a choice as to just how far each would go) and joins in the orgy, bloodying one and all. Yes, this shocks, but it does fit, and it makes its point.

The two acts for which music exists are performed without pause, at least on the video. No attempt is made to express the text for act III, which Schoenberg approved for performance. Thus the opera ends with Moses bewailing “O word, thou word that I lack,” rather than the argument of act III, in which Moses emerges victorious.

The NTSC video (16:9) is as clear as any I have seen; the sound (PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, or DTS 5.1) is equally so. Subtitles come in German, French, or English (in which Schoenberg’s Aron acquires a second “a,” triggering his triskaidekaphobia). Trailers for four other EuroArts DVDs are included: a Don Giovanni (Bertrand Billy/Vienna Philharmonic), Henze’s L’Upupa , Pftzner’s Palestrina , and Haydn’s Orlando Paladino . As I have never subscribed to the belief that Moses und Aron is Schoenberg’s masterpiece, I prefer this powerfully dramatic production over others that better attend to the music.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Moses und Aron by Arnold Schoenberg
Performer:  Michael Smallwood (Tenor), Karolina Gumos (Mezzo Soprano), Finnur Bjarnason (Tenor),
Andreas Conrad (Tenor), Ilse Eerens (Soprano), Dale Duesing (Baritone),
Boris Grappe (Bass)
Conductor:  Michael Boder
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bochum Symphony Orchestra,  Chorwerk Ruhr
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930-1932; Berlin, Germany 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Brilliant April 22, 2014 By Marina Y. (Richmond Hill, NY) See All My Reviews "everything is great - music, staging, design, singing." Report Abuse
 Terrific Production! June 13, 2012 By Donald B. Anthony (Palo Alto, CA) See All My Reviews "A wonderful rendering of this work of Schoenberg. Even includes naked virgins in the "Golden Calf" scene! The only reservation is that Aron seems to be straining at times and can be a little hard to listen to." Report Abuse
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