Schoenberg: Gurrelieder - Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5172 (2 discs)
Classical - Vocal
Tove: Alwyn Mellor (soprano)
Waldtaube/Wood Dove: Anna Larsson (mezzo-soprano)
Waldemar: Stuart Skelton (tenor)
Klaus-Narr/Klaus the Fool: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (tenor)
Bauer/Peasant: James Creswell (bass)
Sprecher/Speaker: Sir Thomas Allen (speaker)
Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Choir of Collegium Musicum, Edvard Grieg Kor, Orphei Drängar, students from the Royal Northern College of Music
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, musicians from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Recorded live on SACD in the sumptuous acoustic of Grieghallen in Bergen, this mind-blowing interpretation of Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder involves 350 performers: large choral forces, six exceptional soloists, and the legendary Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra extended for the occasion all conducted by Edward Gardner. Marking the pinnacle of the Orchestra's 250th anniversary celebrations, the same forces offered two evening concerts that met with unanimous acclaim in the press, including a five-star review from The Daily Telegraph praising the 'sweep of Gardner's conducting, by turns luminous and incisive'. It added, 'He unleashed the piece's volcanic passions while never becoming mired in its high-calorific density, and somehow avoided drowning the singers', and also congratulated the 'heroic' Stuart Skelton, 'warm' Alwyn Mellor, 'ethereal' Anna Larsson, and 'powerful' Thomas Allen.
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Review by John Broggio - October 30, 2016
This recording was made as a double celebration, both of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra's 250th anniversary and also to mark the passing of the baton from Andrew Litton to Edward Gardner.
This orchestral partnership was significantly reinforced (see details above) as well as the requisite soloists and choral contributions including contributions from the Royal Northern College of Music; they were not the only ones to attend the festivities in December 2015 for these concerts attracted some rave reviews in the UK media, similar to those garnered by Abbado for his Berlin performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 8. The reception for Abbado's Mahler was notably cooler when heard at one remove after the concert performances had been edited together and issued on disc and, sadly, for this listener a similar diminishing return is felt on hearing these combined performances on disc.
Compared to Schoenberg: Gurrelieder - Gielen, the most obvious difference in Gardner's approach to the score is the overall swiftness of his account: Gardner takes just under 1h45 whereas Michael Gielen uses 2h02, no small difference. How this reveals itself is how insistent Gardner is that the music flows compared to the more reflective and consequently more intoxicating account of Gielen. This probably was incredibly thrilling indeed in concert but having listened to both these accounts back-to-back more than half-a-dozen times over the last month, it is hard to ignore that this "flow" sweeps a great myriad of (important) detail under the musical carpet. Apart from the spray of the sonic spectacle that Schoenberg painstakingly scored being lost in the huge waves of sound, the sinister mood to reflect the text that frequently inhabits this score is greatly reduced as a result. Added to this, none of the soloists is as in fresh a voice as those soloists are for Gielen, further diminishing the attractions of this release.
The engineers for Chandos do their level best but are fatally undermined by the swift tempi clouding the normally admirably clear Grieghallen, Bergen and the notes meet the usual high standards of the label.
All in all, this release would be valuable if it were the only outing of Gurrelieder on hi-res media; however, it is not - buy the Gielen while you still can for the overwhelming musical and sonic celebration that this extraordinary, beautiful, haunting & unique neo-Romantic masterpiece can be.
Copyright © 2016 John Broggio and HRAudio.net