Gurlitt: Soldaten

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Soldaten
PERFORMER: Claudia Barainsky, Thomas Mohr, Thomas Harper, Michelle Breedt, Michael Burt, Andreas Kohn; Berlin Radio Chorus, German SO Berlin/Gerd Albrecht
Manfred Gurlitt (1890-1973) had the misfortune to choose Büchner’s Wozzeck as an operatic subject at the same time as Berg and to see his adaptation of Lenz’s Soldiers eclipsed by Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s later version. Although he was successful in the years between the two world wars, much of his later lack of recognition was of his own doing: emigrating from Germany to fellow Axis power Japan in 1939 won him few friends in the West, while his musical style – attractive but tonally conservative – had neither the adventure of his more forward-looking contemporaries such as Berg and Weill nor the Romantic lushness of Strauss and his followers. What he was good at, on the evidence of his Soldaten, was conversational word-setting: the text is always well projected against an inventive orchestral backdrop, with the instruments only coming to the fore in the interludes and at crucial dramatic moments. Given the marvellously refined treatment it gets here from the German SO, it is easy to hear the music as better than it is, and the cast members, in this Deutschland Radio co-production, sound well enough within their roles to suggest more than a one-off sing-through. Not a revelation, perhaps, but a worthwhile addition to our knowledge of pre-war German opera nonetheless. Matthew Rye