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  Hänssler Classic -
  093.198.000 (2 discs)
  Schoenberg: Gurrelieder - Gielen
  Schoenberg: Gurrelieder

Chor des Bayrischen Rundfunks
MDR Rundfunkchor Leipzig
Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Michael Gielen (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Vocal
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 3

Site review by Polly Nomial June 17, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by JJ November 20, 2007 (7 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Arnold Schoenberg composed his Gurrelieder at the beginning of the 20th century when Gustav Mahler was at his fourth symphony. With a colossal orchestra and chorus that includes 5 vocal soloists, 3 male choruses for 4 voices and a mixed chorus for 8 voices, 8 flutes, 3 oboes, 2 French horns, 7 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 2 contrabassoons, 10 horns, 6 trumpets, 7 trombones, 6 kettledrums, cymbals, a triangle, a glockenspiel, a snare drum and a big drum, a xylophone, a tam-tam, 4 harps, and 1 celesta, the work takes on the appearance of an immense fresco depicting Danish king Waldemar IV Atterdag’s thwarted amorous passion for Tove Lille. Built on the verses of Danish poet Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847-1885), the score was created in Vienna in 1913 under the direction of Franz Schreker. However, the composition of the work took place in two distinct phases, and as Schoenberg himself stated: “One has to realize that the part orchestrated in 1910 and 1911 is orchestrated quite differently from the first and second parts. I had no intention of hiding it. Quite the contrary. It is obvious that ten years later I was orchestrating quite differently. By tidying the score, I only reworked a few passages. Everything else (including things I would have preferred to change) was kept in its initial state. I would not have been able to go back to the same style, and any music lover of any competence should be able to immediately detect the four or five changed passages. These modifications and corrections gave me more work than the whole earlier composition.” For the first time on SACD, Michael Gielen’s version is irreproachably constructed. Both analytical and lyrical, its vision marvelously combines Jacobsen’s romantic poetry and the details of an abounding score. Backed by committed singers and chorus, Gielen puts his discourse on high interpretive summits. Here then are the Gurrelieder that perfectly take advantage of multi-channel technology and are a pleasure at each moment.

Jean-Jacques Millo
Translation Lawrence Schulman

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Review by jdaniel November 24, 2008 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Let my get to the voices first; many reviews I've read regarding this release tends to have a reservation about Tove and Waldemarr, the soprano and tenor--the centerpieces around which the drama revolves. The good news is that technically they're perfectly fine. The tenor Robert Smith has a gorgeous voice--warm and honeyed up the scale with very little strain. The Soprano Melanie Diener has a beautiful voice as well--pure and agile, with a tastefully-dispatched vibrato. The "heart" of Part 1, (track 9), ending on a high soprano Bb, "in a rapturous kiss," is to die for, as they say. What a rapturous moment.

The bad news--and I think that this is where the criticism arises-- is that I'm not convinced that they've completely internalized their roles, sounding a little emotionally-detached and careful at first but for my tastes they settle in quite quickly. Anyone who loves Kiri te Kanawa can certainly get past the issue of beautiful vocalizing at the expense of drama, especially considering that IMHO the orchestral contribution (and the recorded sound) should in any case send most into the throes of delirium and ecstasy. I'm not kidding, and we're talking two-channel for this poor audiophile. Let me make it very clear: none of the soloists mar the performance in the usual ways--there's no strain, wobbles, bad intonation, scoops or absurdly-wide vibrato. Rest assured.

Both voices and orchestra are allowed to interact beautifully with the venue's acoustic before hitting the microphones. The front to back/left to right soundstage is absolutely gargantuan. The sense of vast space coupled with Gielen's balancing does wonders for Schoenberg's sometimes extremely agitated and explosive moments such as Waldemar's 2nd song, ("Where's my horse?"), with its extremely dense textures. In lesser recordings it is easy to see why some would consider the work a little crass at times. Not here: even the most over the top climaxes still have plenty of headroom and for the first time--after years of acquaintance with other recordings--I feel as though I was able to follow grasp the polyphony in the loudest moments.

I must also tip my hat to the recording team: not only could I hear the very low and quiet harp plucks which end the Prelude, I could also--for the first time--make out that they were actually multiple harps playing in unison. The choir is adequately dramatic, they project well and wait until you hear them in the final Sunrise scene--their weight and power (coupled with the astonishing clarity of the recording) provide a sensual yet *sensible* impact I never thought possible in the home.

Interpretively, Gielen's performance is an indulgent one, slow and exquisitely-colored. While I still feel that Chailly has the ultimate grasp of the overall architecture of the work, I would find it hard to imagine that anyone wouldn't yield and ultimately be won-over by this performance. If you want more emotional and dramatic soloists, they can be found in Ozawa's and Chailly's performances on Philips and Decca. I would give Ozawa's choir the edge for their enthusiastic work in Part III. Many like Rattle and Sinopoli, but I consider them a little too invasive and fussy.

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Arnold Schoenberg - Gurrelieder