This morning's survey
of recordings of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder
for Building a Library
resulted in Nicholas Baragwanath selecting Simon Rattle's excellent live version from 2002. I'm not surprised: I bought it on the strength on Andrew Clements' enthusiastic review
way back when it came out and I think it's stood the test of time well.
For anyone who doesn't know it, Gurrelieder
is vast slab of late-Romanticism that is very much at odds with Schoenberg's later atonal works. The first part consists of a series of orchestral songs focusing on the love between King Waldemar and his mistress Tove — a romance that is, inevitably, doomed by the jealousy of Waldemar's queen. The section ends with a very beautiful, very Wagnerian song in which one of wood -doves of the Castle of Gurre tells the others of Tove's tragic death. In the second part, Waldemar curses God for the injustice of his beloved's death and is condemned to ride forever at the head of a skeletal hunting party. The final part features Waldemar and his wild hunt riding out, shocking the peasants as they pass, before the piece ends with a spectacular evocation of the sunrise.
While the video may not be the best quality and may not be quite in sync, here's a terrific performance of Gurrelieder
from 2002, with Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC SO. The soloists are Jon Villars as Waldemar, Christine Brewer as Tove, Petra Lang as the wood-dove, and the much missed Philip Langridge as Klaus the Fool.
This brings back a lot of memories for me: I was lucky enough to be in the audience that night. I remember the Albert Hall was packed to the rafters and absolutely sweltering; it was around 30 celcius in London and well before the work to improve the air conditioning, making the place feel like a giant sauna! Luckily the performance more than made up for it and was good to see the hall full: I'd been to see a double bill of Olly Knussen's two Maurice Sendak operas, Higglety Pigglety Pop!
and Where the Wild Things Are
, two days before and the audience had been a little on the thin side...