Schoenberg: Gurrelieder

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
WORKS: Gurrelieder
PERFORMER: Melanie Diener (soprano), Jennifer Lane (mezzo-soprano), Stephen O’Mara, Martyn Hill (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (bass), Ernst Haefliger (speaker); Simon Joly Chorale; Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557518-19
The first five minutes promise well. The ‘sunset’ introduction is exquisitely played and balanced so that one can hear almost everything of the dense, multi-layered orchestral texture. But as the two leading soloists begin their long, ecstatic love scene, doubts begin to accumulate. It’s not that the singers aren’t capable, though Stephen O’Mara’s voice has a tendency to hardnes, and Melanie Diener strains in the extreme heights. But where is the long, sweeping late-Romantic phrasing so magnificently captured by Riccardo Chailly and his team on Decca? Part 1 in particular is full of tunes that cry out (like King Waldemar) to be loved. I can’t get over the impression that Robert Craft’s heart just isn’t with the young Tristan-intoxicated Schoenberg; that what really interests him are the passages that look forward to the later, modernist adventurer – the ‘Song of the Wood Dove’ or ‘The Summer Wind’s Wild Hunt’. True, these are brilliant inspirations, but generally speaking, the musical public doesn’t appear to love Gurrelieder for its prophecies of the atonal Schoenberg to come; rather because it is one of the most gorgeous of all products of very-late Romanticism. Chailly’s is still the version which best combines detail and warmth of expression, while seeing this gloriously over-ripe masterpiece very much as a whole. The Decca recording also balances soloists and full orchestra rather more convincingly than the Naxos, which is a reissue of a short-lived Koch release. Stephen Johnson