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Customer Review

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The cream of the crop, 7 May 2009
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This review is from: Gurre-Lieder (Audio CD)
The Santa Fe listener is quite right when he says that many people will not even be aware of this stupendous 2001 recording; when I reviewed those available a while back I certainly did not know of it and if I had, I would, as I do now, unhesitatingly endorse it as the first choice set, even above the Ozawa version. The Munich orchestra sounds like the greatest band in the world and Levine performs miracles with them, drawing out the sound monumentally without ever losing tension: the blazing, climactic last mega-chorus is a lulu. The two main soloists are the finest yet, but although Meier is very fine as the Wood-dove she does not eclipse Troyanos, Fassbänder and, most arresting of all, Janet Baker. The sound is amazingly full and as the recording was assembled from three consecutive live performances, it retains the frisson of a live event with very few coughs or distracting noises. Veteran retired tenor Ernst Haefliger takes the rôle of the Speaker - he recorded it twice that year, in this and then in the Craft recording - and gives us a highly stylised, vividly characterised, Sprechstimme account of the poem, but he sounds too old and quavery for my taste. The other smaller parts are fine, although I confess that I am always a little bored by both the Bauer and Klaus-Narr episodes; the glory of this piece lies in the long-breathed, emotionally highly wrought outpourings of Waldemar, Tove and the chorus, sung to perfection by this distinguished ensemble. Heppner sings both heroically and tenderly and is suitably distraught upon Tove's death, and it's worth hearing Voigt for her top B at the end of "Du sendest mir einen Liebesblick" (track 10) alone. My other little gripe is that despite giving us a fairly fat, thirty-page booklet, there is no libretto, and it is instead stuffed with padding like photos, biographies and a mini-history of the orchestra. But that doesn't matter; this is a great performance; buy it.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Jan 2011, 17:33:43 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Dear Ralph-I bought this set the day it was released, and as far as I am aware have all the current stereo Gurrelieders including Kubelik, Ferencsik, Mehta (truly awful!), etc. up to Salonen. My only quibble with your review is that you do not praise this set enough!! it's SUPERB!! Joking apart: Other observations are that as far as the "Taube" is concerned, Fassbaender is a bit ragged, Lipovsek is ethereally beautiful in Abbado's slightly soft-grained performance, von Otter is depressingly poor of voice-in fact I find the Rattle to be a poor performance all round.
Monica Groop in the new Salonen is INFURIATING-she bgins phrases with a superb legato, loses it in the middle and wobbles alarmingly-then regains it at the end! Ouch!
The Dove for whom I would like to put in a plea is Jennifer Larmore in the Sinopoli recording. I initially did not like his more deliberate tempi, and darker mood all round-but I have grown to admire this reading second only to Levine. Larmore and Sinopoli are electrifying in this movement-and of course, Klaus Maria Brandauer puts all "Sprechers" in the shade, even Hotter-and is worth the price of the set alone-BUT, there is of course, the vocal strangulations of Thomas Moser to put up with, worse here than for Rattle.
i would now commend to you the Levine/Munich Bartok Bluebeard's castle, and the Act 111 Siegfried set with Morris, Svenden, Heppner and Voight-oh, what might have been-too late now!!
Congratulations on a superb review! Best Regards, Stewart

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Jan 2011, 19:46:41 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
Dear Stewart,

I'm so glad you like this - it never got the exposure it deserves, like so many of Levine's best recordings. I am currently enamoured of his Mahler box set I reviewed here:

which is unavailable in the UK so must be bought from Amazon France.

You're right; the only reason I avoided the Sinopoli "Gurrelieder" is because of Mr Moser - everything else looks perfect. I am a big fan of Jennifer Larmore. You have hit on another of my favourite pieces in "Bluebeard" but I cannot stomach John Tomlinson's big, blowsy, woofy sound and have never been a fan of James Morris so that will exclude the "Siegfried". Fussy, am I not?

Here's a "Buebeard" I love:
Bluebeard's Castle

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jan 2011, 11:53:35 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Dear Ralph-thanks for your comments and the " Bluebeard" Link-I've been enjoying this set since it was first released in the 80's, and it is pretty superb-my only little niggle is that the over resonant acoustic in the Eszterhazy palace and the rather forward placing of the voices diminishes the impact in the great climaxes-5th door etc. Marton was a great singer-in theatre, especially in Vienna, the wobble which the microphone emphasised was not noticeable, and she commanded the stage totally-I saw her in Turandot under Lusi and Elektra under Maazel (standing in last minute for an indisposed Abbado)-the only description I can give is WOW!
I know what you mean about Tomlinson, and he really does struggle in the upper register, more for Levine than for Haitink-and there is a lot more "declaiming" rather than singing-but the sheer dramatic power of Levine's reading, and the visceral impact of the sound overall make it one to listen to-do try it if you get the chance. The best "Kekszekallu" is by far Laszlo Polgar on the Boulez Chicago set.
However, Boulez's reading is underpowered and a bit rigid, and the sound is "dry"-though the ending is very eery-and Jessye Norman sings the role of Judith as- well, Jessye Norman in concert!
Great voice, shame about the acting-or lack of it! I was fortunate about 10 years ago to see Polgar sing this role in Covent Garden under Adam Fischer. The Judith was someone I hadn't heard of-a certain Katarina Dalayman. I was stunned, and have been a slavish admirer since then (It was a double bill with "Erwartung"-it was on first so I couldn't leave early!). The Naxos Korngold "Die Tote Stadt" was her best recording until the Elder Gotterdammerung! James Morris in his prime had a truly echt-Wagnerian bass baritone-with a superb legato-but he was a bit "bland". Better to have great singing than not though, and the Levine Act3 Siegfried has him sounding older as The Wanderer and he is VERY powerful-much better than on either Ring set.
You should give it a try, if only because you are unlikely to hear Heppner sing this elsewhere unfortunately, and Levine is nigh on perfect with conducting. DO try it!
Finally, the Sinopoli Gurrelieder-this the darkest, most brooding reading of all, magnificently played by the Dresden Saatskapelle-quite the equal of Munich-and just as well recorded. The more intimate songs are heartbreakingly beautiful-and in truth, Moser is OK in those-there is a fair degree of snatched notes in the more dramatic songs and vocal tremors of course-but he is NOT a catastrophe . The rest of the cast is beyond criticism-Voight is in even fresher voice than for Levine,and Larmore is stunning-the cimax of Waldtaube's song will have your hair standing on end!!! Trust me! However, the show is stolen, so to speak, by Klaus Maria Brandauer 's Sprecher-it is THE most extraordinary and riveting assumption of this strange role, and worth the price of the set alone! Who would have thought that this role could SUCH an impact (I prefer a male assumption, certainly to Sukova!)While Levine is incomparably and indubitably first choice-those who love this work as I do "owe it to themselves to hear this recording" (OK, that's over the top, but I can tell from your enthusiasm that you'll be stunned by it-it's SOOO diferent from Levine and works just as well.) Let us all know if you get to hear it-I'd value your opinion as would others!
Best Regards, Stewartdotcrowe at beeteeinternet dotcom. Detective work required!

Posted on 5 Feb 2016, 10:27:51 GMT
John Hill says:
Ralph, when reading reviews of classics in which someone rates a particular recording as the best, I like to check the date of the review so that I can think about it in the context of what recordings of the work might have been released since the review was written. In this case I am confused. You comment in 2009 to a review by the Santa Fe listener in 2012.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Feb 2016, 12:16:48 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
John, I'm not sure what has happened here, but Amazon regularly reposts reviews arbitrarily under the wrong issue and even the wrong product. It may be that the SFL reposted his review but this was released long before 2012 (in 2004 in fact) and know of none better since.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Feb 2016, 15:14:07 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
The perils of "archive" reviews on amazon. The position has deteriorated exponentially over the years!
John, I'm a Gurrelieder obsessive but I haven't reviewed this set because Ralph already had, and I could add nothing useful to his spot-on review.
I now regard the recent Markus Stenz Gurzenich recording as an equal contender-they have different strengths but are equally fine. My favourite recording would be the Sinopoli Dresden but Thomas Moser's Waldemar leaves a lot-well, everything actually!-to be desired.
The Gunther Neuhold recording of the Erwin Stein reduction (148 players down to 100) is very well sung and played and is interesting-I was a bit unkind to it in my review, but it is an addendum not an alternative!
Go for this one or Stenz if you're looking for the very best!
Best Regards, Stewart.
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