Notes and Editorial Reviews
If you’ve ever wondered what effect a huge complement of strings, eight flutes, four piccolos, ten horns, seven clarinets, four harps, and a percussion section that includes “large iron chains” can have, particularly when three four-part men’s choirs, an eight-part mixed chorus, and soloists are thrown in, Gurre-Lieder will answer your question. But as conductor Simon Rattle says in an interview in the accompanying booklet, Gurrelieder is “the world’s largest string quartet,” indeed, a huge piece of chamber music. In a way, he’s right: there are far more sections of slim scoring and quiet playing than there are of wild bombast. And this performance emphasizes the intimacy, both in its leadership and engineering.
From the very
first notes of this reading a dream-like intimacy is clear, and the story unfolds. Throughout the first part, the gentleness, the sadness of the doomed love between Waldemar and Tove is expressive and moving: tenor Thomas Moser, with the correct dark hue to his tone, sings Waldemar’s songs handsomely, rarely having to strain, since Rattle keeps to his theory of Gurrelieder-as-chamber music. The despondency of the seventh song, in which he meditates on death, is palpable. Karita Mattila’s Tove is womanly and understated, with a climactic B-natural the only note out of place in her final, death-inviting song.
Anne Sofie von Otter’s Tove is remarkable in its purity and dramatic thrust—an odd combination. Thomas Quasthoff’s Peasant is suitably horrified by the ongoings of the dead, and Philip Langridge’s Fool keeps an ironic distance. Quasthoff heard again as the Speaker is as good as any on CD and he ends rapturously—“Awaken, awaken, all ye flowers, to joy!”—and sounds less foolish than most, and that includes Hans Hotter—some fine competition indeed. The Berlin Philharmonic and various choruses are amazing in this live performance—accurate, energetic.
The engineers have made an interesting sonic choice. Unlike, say, Chailly’s and Sinopoli’s recordings, the score’s brightness is played down. Giving it all an exquisite matte finish is, again, in keeping with Rattle’s sense of intimacy, but it doesn’t mean that the big moments are flat. The sound is huge when it has to be, though it won’t blow you away viscerally (which it can on other recordings); rather the effect is of a type of elegant grandeur. So able is Schoenberg’s orchestration and EMI’s team that every instrument can be heard in the huge patchwork of the work’s extroverted moments. Not everyone will approve of the way that Rattle and EMI have chosen to treat this very special work, but their arguments will relate to taste rather than quality.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Gurrelieder by Arnold Schoenberg
Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano),
Thomas Moser (Tenor),
Philip Langridge (Tenor),
Thomas Quasthoff (Baritone),
Karita Mattila (Soprano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,
Ernst Senff Choir,
Leipzig Radio Choir
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1900-1911; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 9/2001
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Berlin, Germany
Length: 110 Minutes 14 Secs.
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