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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder on Naxos, 20 May 2010
By 
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder (Audio CD)
I was captivated by Arnold Schoenberg's (1874 -- 1951) Gurre-Lieder, an immense work for large orchestra, chorus, four soloists and speaker which sets a text by the Danish poet Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847 -- 1885). Gurre-Lieder is a stunning, late romantic work, which Schoenberg composed around 1900-1901, but he completed the massive orchestration only in 1911. Among other things, this music will show the listener how atonal music, for which Schoenberg is best remembered, is an outgrowth ot late romanticism. There simply was no other place to take music at the time. The work is powerfully performed on this CD by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Simon Joly Chorale conducted by Robert Craft. Unfortunately, the liner notes are not helpful in approaching the music or the story. Thus I will elaborate for the benefit of the listener who is just coming to the Gurre-Lieder.

It is easy to consider Gurre-Lieder, as I did at first, as an overblown, decadent romantic work -- Wagner and Mahler carried to yet further excess. The work has these components indeed. It has a medieval setting in the remote world of Danish kings. The work begins in melancholy twilight and the story revolves around the love affair between King Waldemar and his mistress Tove. Tove dies at the hand of the jealous queen, and Waldemar curses God. In punishment, he too dies and is condemned to ride through the woods with his retinue of ghosts and former followers in search of Tove. All this, and Schoenberg's music setting the story, is surely the stuff of late romanticism, but the poem and music take a turn. In a pivotal section, Waldemar and his quest are mocked by a jester, Klaus-Norre, who complains that he is denied the rest of the grave by Waldemar's passion. Waldemar's men eventually return to their graves followed by a long spoken section which celebrates the beauty of life and nature and the joy of being alive. The work concludes with an enormous hymn of praise to the sun, in a traditional key of C major. The finale is the only portion of this work in which the full orchestra and massive chorus are both utilized.

Thus, Gurre-Lieder opens in a spirit of late-romantic decadence, but it turns to a world of realism and hope. The critic Malcolm MacDonald offered an excellent analysis of Gurre-Lieder in his book "Schoenberg" in the Master Musicians Series, concluding that the work as a whole was "very far from the ambiguous 'love-death' of Tristan, and equally far from the conventional idea of 'decadent" late-Romanticism." (p. 96)

Gurre-Lieder rests not on the story but on the music Schoenberg composed for it, which is passionate in the extreme, full of contrasts, and lyrical passages for the soloists and detailed writing for the orchestra. The work opens with an orchestral prelude featuring the light sounds of the harp, and the lengthy orchestral interludes throughout the work do much to carry it forward.

The lengthy Part I of the work consists of eight increasingly intense love songs performed alternately by Waldemar and Tove. Part I concludes with a desparing "song of the wood dove" announcing the death of Tove at the instigation of the queen.

The very brief Part II continues the tone following Tove's death as Waldemar curses God. The final part III includes songs in which Waldemar continues his quest in death, erie passages for choruses of his men, as well as more down-to earth passages for a peasant who watches the strange action, the fool, and, ultimately the speaker and full ensemble in a paean of praise to the sun and life.

The Gurre-Lieder is rarely performed live due to its length and the massive forces it requres. But it is beautifully served on this CD. For those listeners wanting to explore a work that straddles the boundaries between late romanticism and contemporary sensibility, Gurre-Lieder is an appropriate place to start.

Robin Friedman
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasant Surprise., 27 Nov 2011
By 
Tough Chops (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder (Audio CD)
I must admit that this was a bit of an epiphany for me. I had always expected the Gurre-Lieder to be somewhat unapproachable, but at this price I was prepared to have a try. Excellent performances, and nice quality recording.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sonic & Creative Excellence, 9 Feb 2008
By 
Mr. Mark A. Meldon (Somerset UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder (Audio CD)
This is an utterly enthralling version of Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder directed by the Stravinsky expert Robert Craft.

We have great singing on this re-release from Koch recorded in 2001. The production values are, simply, stunning. Huge dynamic range, deep bass, and clarity and I'm no hi-fi anorak!

Some people say that Schoenberg is too difficult for "the masses"; I think that that is utter garbage and almost everyone who enjoys notated music could enjoy this work.

The 2CD set is accompanied by Naxos' usual helpful booklet but you have to download the libretti and I hear that this is in German only.

If you are curious about Arnold Schoenberg, this is an inxepensive toe in the water.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 17 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder (Audio CD)
Caught some of Gurrelieder on the radio, not having heard it before. Totally smitten, and I think this was the right recording to buy, as it doesn't disappoint.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Schoenberg - Gurre-Lieder - Craft, 1 Jan 2012
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This review is from: Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder (Audio CD)
A fine performance from Robert Craft, captured very spacioucly with wonderful sound. Soloists and chorus are fine. However, the one moment which makes it or breaks it in this piece is the speakers final line, "Erwacht, erwacht, ihr Blumen, zur Wonne!". Unfortunaly Ernst Haefliger seems tired and not to bothered about the flowers awakening. For me, the best by far at this point is Barbara Sukowa on DG with Claudio Abbado in charge. Here we have shades of Pierrot, leading us full voiced into the final hymn to the sun.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best - but not THE best, 2 Mar 2009
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder (Audio CD)
I hadn't realised just how many recordings of this monumental work there were out there until I started a little research and I can claim to be familiar with only four -although I have listened to some excerpts of others. The other odd thing my investigations revealed was just how many totally contradictory opinions you can glean from a trawl through the Amazon reviews, both US and UK.

OK; in the end you can only tell it as you see - or rather hear - it yourself. My departure point and single biggest discriminator is the quality of the soloists. I realise that you need a wonderful conductor, orchestra and choir to do those massive sonorities justice and the final, blazing paean to Nature and the sun from combined forces has to be right, but the emotional core of this overlong, rambling, unbalanced, but ultimately fascinating, work lies with the outpourings of feeling from the hero, heroine, two bemused onlookers and, finally, the recitalist of the poem. I agree that several conductors seem to lose detail in a soup of sound - or maybe that is as much a location and recording problem - but I can forgive some of that when the voices are right. (Gielen's relatively new recording sounds to my ears to be serious undercast, although Diener repeats her touching, slightly low-key assumption of Tove.)

First, I will not budge on one fact (i.e opinion!): nobody, but nobody, not even Troyanos, begins to approach the depth, strength and variety of colour that Janet Baker brings to her Wood Dove narration. Her voice, in the rather elderly and hissy live, Danish recording conducted by Ferencsik, is awesomely powerful and resonant yet also delicate and moving. She conveys every nuance of emotion in a tour de force of a performance. Troyanos is good but just compare key moments such as "Tod ist Tove". Everyone else, barring Troyanos (and perhaps Fassbaender on the Chailly set) is an also-ran in this part - and some are quite disappointing - particularly Jennifer Lane in the Craft performance.

Regarding Waldemar, there are, to my ears, a lot of rather windy, over-parted tenors who have a go at this role; strangely enough, Alexander Young, Baker's and Arroyo's partner, makes a success of it simply by treating the role quite lyrically and focussing his lighter voice tellingly instead of trying to blast. O'Mara, on the Craft, is very good; having heard him live I suspect that the recording is kind to him, as his voice in the flesh is not that large, however pleasing and musical. No; for me McCracken in the Ozawa set is close to ideal in timbre and attack - if only he had attempted to sing more quietly in the more intimate passages. However, his is still a thrilling assumption of the role and the right, huge voice for this frenetic, despaired and desperate character - and it is possible that the close recording is partly to blame for his prominence in quieter passages.

I need a soprano of real heft and amplitude of tone as Tove - but someone who can fine down her large voice from the more ecstatic moments to accommodate the declarations of love. Arroyo (Ferencsik -again) and, of course, Jessye Norman for Ozawa, have huge, beautiful voices and their competitors,such as Melanie Diener, while being perfectly adequate, rather pale in comparison.

The strength of the Craft set lies in the coherence and splendour of the choral singing and his control of tension - but the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, too, won a Gramophone Award for their contribution to Ozawa's recording. The soloists in Ozawa'a performance are, as I mention above, recorded rather too closely but the ambience of the Boston Symphony Hall is kind. The Ferencsik does not have as stellar an orchestra or choir as Ozawa but they still generate excitement and depth of sound. The best overall sound is to be found on the Craft (formerly Koch, now Naxos).

So, ultimately, I find myself returning either to Ferencsik or Ozawa for the sterling solo performances and it is the latter that I would cling to at a push - while always regretting that it was not Baker who sang for Ozawa. I don't think that Chailly provides the same thrills; his soloists (Fassbaender apart) strike me as competent but bland - though I do enjoy Hotter's declamation even if he had an inauthentic voice type for the spoken role, if we are to heed the composer's wishes for a lighter ex-tenor sound.
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Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder by Ernst Haefliger (Audio CD - 2004)
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