'Songs of Gurre'—settings of German translations by Robert Franz Arnold of Jens Peter Jacobsen's original Danish verse—are transitional works in the Austrian composer's development. A close relation of Mahler's Song of Lamentation and of Sibelius's Kullervo, Gurrelieder took Schoenberg 11 years to complete, and by the time of its Vienna premiere, in 1913, he had already shocked the world with his avant-garde 'manifesto', Pierrot Lunaire. In Gurrelieder, we hear his transition from post-Wagnerian late Romantic—the adulterous love of King Waldemar and Tove clearly parallels Tristan und Isolde thematically and harmonically—to the leading purveyor of notated sprechgesang (speech-song) in the final solo of the Narrator (vividly sung-spoken by Johannes Martin Kränzle).
This superb performance crowns Stenz's tenure as Cologne's general music director, with opulent playing from the Gurzenichers and six Cologne and Dutch choirs. Brandon Jovanovich's thrilling Waldemar and Claudia Mahnke's plangent Wood Dove are the pick of a fine team of soloists.