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Deutsche Grammophon




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2013 marked the centenary of the first performance of Schoenberg’s – if not the early 20th century’s – essay in gargantuism. The forces involved were unprecedented: in addition to the soloists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, two tenors, bass and speaker) there were three male-voice choirs and an eight-part mixed choir; and the 150-piece orchestra included 25 woodwind, 11 percussion, 4 harps and 80 strings. In 1903, he had even been compelled to ask the Waldheim–Eberle Press to prepare him some special 48-stave manuscript paper. The reception at the first performance was overwhelming: the ovation lasted fifteen minutes; the composer’s denigrators were silenced and many members of the audience wept. The title means ‘Songs of Gurre’, referring to Gurre Castle in Denmark, scene of the medieval love-tragedy revolving around the Danish national legend of the love of the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag (spelt Waldemar by Schoenberg) for his mistress Tove, and her subsequent murder by Valdemar’s jealous Queen Helvig.

Its performances and recordings have attracted some of the world’s finest dramatic sopranos – among them Susan Dunn and Jessye Norman, and here, Sharon Sweet. In a survey of this work, Gramophone magazine selected this Claudio Abbado’s recording as the finest ever made. It was then, only available for digital download and now, after an absence of several years, returns to the CD catalogue.

‘… Abbado’s interpretation, is the most expressionistically detailed of all. The textures shimmer and then glint to reveal Schoenberg’s own sea-change in orchestral writing over a decade … Abbado and the Viennese live dangerously – and when day breaks and that prickly cactus Schoenberg finally blooms, they are unrivalled in splendour.’ Peter Quantrill, Gramophone

‘Abbado’s pacing of Gurrelieder’s 110-minute duration may be the best on records: the tension never flags, and the music’s atmospheric richness is never short-changed. He also has a terrific cast. Siegfried Jerusalem (Waldemar) sings with warmth, conviction and imagination, and handles the music’s heroic line without the barking to which many tenors resort. Sharon Sweet is a luminous Tove, and Marjana Lipovsek sings affectingly as Wood Dove who relates Tove’s murder and Waldemar’s grief at her funeral.’ The Baltimore Sun

Gurrelieder: for soloists, chorus and orchestra

Siegfried Jerusalem: Waldemar
Sharon Sweet: Tove
Marjana Lipovšek: Wood Dove
Hartmut Welker: Peasant
Philip Langridge: Klaus the Jester
Barbara Sukowa: Speaker

Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Arnold Schoenberg Chor
Slowakischer Philharmonischer Chor Bratislava
Wiener Philharmoniker
Claudio Abbado

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