Waldemar - James McCracken, tenor
Tove - Jessye Norman, soprano
Waldtaube - Tatiana Troyanos, mezzo-soprano
Bauer - David Arnold, baritone
Klaus-Narr - Kim Scown, tenor
Sprecher - Werner Klemperer
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Conductor - Seiji Ozawa
April 1979, Boston Symphony Hall (live)
Given the eminence of the performers assembled for this recording, this is a particularly disappointing reading of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder. Both the conductor and the recording engineers must share the blame for the fact that this monumental oratorio, using one of the largest orchestras of any late romantic work, comes across as sounding dinky. The orchestra is especially anemic and colorless in the prelude, a vivid evocation of the sun setting in the forest, which is one of the most sumptuous and richly orchestrated early twentieth century tone paintings. The orchestra improves as the work progresses, and in other sections, such as the Song of the Wood Dove, and in the Hunt, it demonstrates that it's capable of producing a full sound, but the performance is too uneven to be satisfactory. Ozawa fails to convey a broad and meaningful sense of the work's architecture, which is especially critical in order for such a sprawling piece to make sense. This recording stands in sharp contrast to Rene Leibowitz's 1953 version, still available on Preiser, which captures the fullness of Gurrelieder's sweep and grandeur. James McCracken sings with rich, round tone, but his interpretation seems merely perfunctory. Tatiana Troyanos brings conviction and warmth to the role of the Wood Dove, but it lies uncomfortably low for her voice. Werner Klemperer's narration is dramatic and deeply felt, giving the final sections a momentum that had previously been lacking. Jessye Norman turns in a remarkable performance, her velvety voice at ease and expressive, consistently full throughout the extravagantly wide range that Schoenberg requires. The sound of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus is distant and strained.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
The huge scale of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder mark it as a post-Wagnerian product of turn-of-the-century gigantism. Even Mahler's Eighth Symphony (1907) and Schoenberg's own mammoth stage work Moses und Aron do not require such enormous musical resources. He demands five solo voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, two tenors and bass), three four-part male-voice choirs, and an eight-part mixed choir. The orchestra comprises four piccolos and four flutes, three oboes, two cors anglais, three clarinets in A or B flat, two E flat clarinets, two bass clarinets, three bassoons and two contrabassoons, ten horns, six trumpets, one bass trumpet, one alto trombone, four tenor trombones, one bass trombone, one contrabass trombone, six timpani, tenor drum, cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel, side drum and bass drum, xylophone, tam-tam, four harps, celesta, and a large string section with the violins divided into ten parts and the violas and cellos into eight each. The profusion of woodwind instruments stems from a desire to be able to produce any chord purely within each tonal group.
The score was written in 1900-01, between the string sextet Verklarte Nacht and the symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande, and was thus roughly contemporary with Mahler's Fourth Symphony, Pfitzner's Die Rose vom Liebesgarten, Strauss's Feuersnot, Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande, Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, and Picasso's Blue Period. The first and second parts were orchestrated between 1901-03, but Schoenberg did not score the third part until 1910-11. Of this later scoring he observed:
It must surely be seen that the orchestration of the section scored in 1910 and 1911 is quite different in style from that of the first and second parts. I had no intention of hiding this. On the contrary, it is self-evident that after ten years I should score differently. In completing the score I revised only a few passages. Everything else has remained as it was originally (including a number of things which I would have preferred to change). But I would not have been able to find the style again, and any tolerably proficient critic should readily be able to discover the four or five corrected passages. These revisions gave me more trouble than the whole composition did originally.
The first performance finally took place (after many difficulties) in Vienna, where the work had been written. It was conducted by Franz Schreker on 23 February 1913, and the Vienna Philharmonic Choir carried off the much-discussed event in spite of all obstacles.
The poem The text of the Gurrelieder was written by Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847-1885), the best known Danish writer after Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen. Rilke acclaimed him as his spiritual mentor: "He was a companion to my spirit and a presence in my mind". Originally a botanist, Jacobsen died young of tuberculosis, having published in his lifetime the novels Mogens, Marie Grubbe, and Niels Lyhne, which bring together Impressionist and Symbolist elements. He left the posthumous story En cactus springer ud, the action of which provides a framework for five young men to read their latest manuscripts to their host and his beautiful daughter while they wait for a rare cactus to flower at night. In one episode the tale is told in verse and prose of the Danish castle of Gurre, a medieval legend historically based on the secret love of the Danish King Waldemaf IV for the girl Tovelille (Little Dove). The jealous Queen Helwig is supposed to have caused the girl's death. The German translation had been published in 1899 by the Viennese linguist and critic Robert Franz Arnold. Schoenberg, who was well-versed in literature, pounced immediately on this novelty and took Jacobsen's delicately constructed verses as a foundation for a grandiose composition which goes beyond the traditional oratorio, though it may have distant models in Mahler's Das klagende Lied of 1880 and in the choral symphonic poem Kullervo by Sibelius of 1892.
The legend of the Danish castle of Gurre falls into three sections, each of which is subdivided into enlarged song structures and symphonic interludes. The first part tells of King Waldemar's love for Tovelille and ends with the song of the wood-dove relating the girl's death. The short second part consists entirely of the song in which Waldemar argues with God. The third part brings the climax, "The Wild Hunt", the ride of Waldemar's dead warriors. At the end come thoughts of redemption and resurrection.
Feelings for nature, as favoured by Impressionists and Symbolists, underlie this lyrical and dramatic composition. The orchestral prelude to Waldemar's first song paints the "dusk" that "mutes every sound on land and sea": an E flat major chord with the "yearning" post-Wagnerian added sixth. The chromatically enhanced harmony, using adjoining degrees of the scale, is characteristic of Schoenberg's early, tonal period. The wide melodic intervals, which are hard to pitch, are also typical, as is the tendency towards polyphony, towards close, freely contrapuntal working-out of the thematic material.
Waldemar's song is followed by Tove's in one of the most delicate passages of the score, with its moonlit atmosphere produced by gentle woodwind sounds and imitative solo string lines weaving around the melody. The transition to the next song already anticipates Waldemar's restlessness: "Horse, my horse, why this dragging pace?" Tove's song-like answer is a variation on previous material. Waldemar's melody "Never have angels danced before the throne of God" seems to be almost in the manner of a folk song. The contrast is provided by Tove's love song, which becomes the work's main theme; many passages anticipate Schoenberg's First Chamber Symphony. The approaching disaster comes into relief in Waldemar's song "'Tis midnight", carried by muted strings and trumpets. The last group of love songs deals with an ecstatic yearning for the end and with nocturnal moods. The combination of themes in the orchestral intermezzo creates a dramatic, fateful tone.
The song of the wood-dove tells of Tove's death; it is like a ballad, divided into strophes and linked by short interludes. Episodes are depicted in tone-painting - the cooing of the wood-dove, the funeral procession, the peal of bells, the picture of the queen who stands, "high upon the battlements, obsessed with thoughts of vengeance ... Helwig's falcon 'twas, that cruelly has slaughtered Gurre's dove".
The orchestral prelude takes up the oppressive chords which closed the first part. Waldemar's lamentation and despair are reflected in poignantly accented transformations of the themes of the wood-dove's song. Schoenberg's variation technique is employed to make a psychological point. Waldemar accuses God: "Lord God, I also am a monarch".
"The Wild Hunt" surges forth. The idea for these ghostly midnight happenings goes back to ancient Germanic notions; the storm wind is interpreted animistically as the wild hunt of the dead heroes together with Odin the wild huntsman. Waldemar's nocturne, transposed into D minor, provides the thematic material for the slow introduction. Muted chords sound in the Wagner tubas, as if from "forgotten, sunken graves". At Waldemar's cry "Today the dead ride abroad!" the orchestra launches into a furious postlude. In a brief episode a peasant appears who watches the Wild Hunt galloping past - a reflection of the supernatural in the impotent terror of a mortal.
The massive choruses, mainly written in canon, dramatised by the brass, are the dynamic culmination of the score. Egon Wellesz, one of the earliest commentators on Schoenberg, observed that "since the vassals' scene in Gdtterddmmerung no other piece of music of such massive power has been composed".
The ghostly activity ceases. Waldemar's voice rings out. The strings play the Tove motif. "With Tove's voice whispers the wood ... Tove's smile beams from the stars". The scene for Klaus the Jester is interpolated as a contrast, a caricature of Waldemar. From here on it is evident that Schoenberg's instrumental manner has progressed in the decade since the final section was first sketched: the orchestration brings out the polyphonic lines, the middle parts have more inner life, and the instruments are exploited in a thoroughly "modern" way, exploiting the extreme limits of their range and capability.
The song of the Jester is supported by col legno effects in the strings. A sonorous orchestral postlude leads on to Waldemar's remonstrances with God. Dawn breaks. The ghosts vanish altogether, subsiding in bass notes from the contrabassoons and contrabass tuba. Four piccolos and three flutes, supported by oboes, clarinets, and bassoon, embark softly but compellingly on the counterpart to the Wild Hunt of the Dead - "The Wild Hunt of the Summer Wind."
Before the great closing chorus there is an epilogue, representing the ego coming to terms with the world, the expression of a cosmic feeling for nature. For the first time Schoenberg uses sprechgesang - a halfway house between speech and song which he was to use in later works such as Pierrot lunaire. To accommodate the sprechgesangthe orchestration is reduced: solo violin, solo viola and clarinet repeat Tove's love theme in muted, Impressionistic colours. An orchestral crescendo leads to the final chorus "Behold the sun". At the word "sun" ringing trumpets give out the final theme. This is a variant on the opening motif, a C major chord with A, the added sixth. Contrapuntal and imitative episodes alternate with the chorus, which is scored in a relatively straightforward manner. The work ends with the chordal motif C-E-G-A - a hymn to the endlessly returning sun as a guarantee of new life.
- Karl Schumann (Translation DECCA)