Monday, 2 March 2009

Gurrelieder Salonen Philharmonia London 1

Gurrelieder was written in two stages, over 11 years. In the intervening years Schoenberg had developed so much that its successful premiere left him feeling almost angry. Couldn’t the audience hear where he was heading? Nearly a hundred years have passed since that first performance, so we’re in a better position to understand Gurrelieder’s place in the repertoire. On Saturday 28/2/09, Esa-Pekka Salonen led the Philharmonia in a superb performance that made it clear why Schoenberg was to have such an influence on modern music.

Wagner’s impact on music was so revolutionary that even in 1900, a young man like Schoenberg had to engage with it before he could find himself. Hitherto Schoenberg had only written Lieder and chamber music. Suddenly, Gurrelieder bursts into his imagination, epic in scope and realization. Wagner’s influence is unmistakable. Yet Schoenberg is doing something quite distinctively his own.

The music in the first part is like Verklärte Nacht writ infinitely larger. How delicately the strings, harps and horns introduce the dream-like mood, and how the textures gradually build up in sweeping arcs. Salonen listens past the Wagnerian wrappings and hears Schoenberg, already distinctive and original. The orchestra may be huge, but he doesn’t let sheer volume overwhelm the innate refinement in the music, even in the explosive climaxes. It’s an interesting approach, cognizant of Schoenberg’s other music, rarely overburdened by excess. Salonen knows what he’s doing, and doesn’t mistake the riches in Gurrelieder as sub-Wagnerian, despite the obvious connection.

Indeed, like my friend Mark Berry writes in his blog boulezian, (link at right), it would be fascinating to hear Salonen conduct Wagner. Last year I heard Salonen conduct Sibelius at the Barbican. That was a shock as many are used to Sibelius being conducted like Tchaikovsky manqué, romantic and dreamy, which Sibelius himself couldn’t stand. Salonen came to Sibelius late, so he wasn’t constrained by preconceived tradition. He’ll be coming to Wagner late, too, perhaps with the same fresh approach.

Soile Isokoski sang Tove, with the assurance of experience. This is a role she’s made her own, developing it beyond the merely decorative. Wunderliche Tove is as gentle as a dove, but like doves, she’s strong. Her attraction to Waldemar is that she makes his mind “so klar, ein wacher Frieden über meine Seele”. They sing of death, but don’t get off on it. In any case, Tove thinks it’s only an interlude “wie ruhiger Schlummer before awakening once more to life. So, no screaming histrionics need.

The Waldtaube‘s music is Erda-like, for she sees all, and represents a kind of earth conscience. Schoenberg clothes the part with music that evokes the Waldtaube’s panoramic vision : she sees the monk tolling the Angelus, we heard the orchestra solemnly creating it in sound. Monica Groop’s voice has mellowed nicely as she’s matured. Stig Andersen has sung a lot of Wagner, and it shows in the way he shapes the mighty “Herrgott, weisst du” sequence.

This is just part one, so please see part two HERE In many ways this is the more important part because it's where Schoenberg breaks new ground artistically : Magnificent music whoich proves that new and atonal can be passionately moving. The CD ius now out : The original programme notres underplayed Part 2 soit maybe useful to read about part 2 here if you get the CD,

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