Schoenberg: Gurrelieder

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Gurrelieder
PERFORMER: Siegfried Jerusalem, Philip Langridge (tenor), Sharon Sweet (soprano), Marjana Lipovsek (contralto), Hartmut Welker (baritone), Barbara Sukowa (speaker); Vienna State Opera Concert Chorus, Arnold Schönberg Choir, Slovak Philharmonic Choir, Vienna PO/Claud
CATALOGUE NO: 439 944-2 DDD
A starry cast, the Vienna Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado: high expectations are raised and happily not disappointed in a sumptuous, exciting and moving performance. Of course, no Gurrelieder is flawless. Glued to the score, one notes odd lapses of rhythm and a few trivially wrong pitches from the Danish King, but this role seldom gets the Wagnerian Heldentenor it deserves and Siegfried Jerusalem is unsurpassed in my experience, riding the orchestral tide with ringing top notes and huge spans of breath.

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The female singers warm up slowly, but this makes Sweet’s ‘Nun sag ich dir’ the more ravishing, and Lipovsek’s wood-dove, finally, would make the castle stones weep. Welker and Langridge do full justice to their songs, and only Sukowa’s speaker, or rather shouter, is a drawback despite her good intention of making the wild summer wind humorous as well as lovely. The male choruses are murky as always but the sunrise is glorious; and the recording achieves the necessary huge dynamic range. Schoenberg’s early masterpiece, not faded late-Romanticism but the exuberant music of youth, is both song-cycle and symphony; Abbado’s control of merging tempi, clear thematic delineation, and rich orchestral colour (with plenty of iron chains) wonderfully integrate lyricism within its broad symphonic sweep.

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Julian Rushton