Even with the sophistications of current sound technology, the young Schoenberg's hyper-Romantic master masterpiece Gurrelieder remains a challenge to record. Dynamics and scoring range from the most delicate chamber textures to the mass sonorities of a vast choir and an orchestra of some 140 players. The score also teems with volatile interior details and figurations—by no means all discernible in this latest recording. All the same, the new version recorded in the Philharmonic in Cologne makes a vivid and spacious overall impression thanks to the alternately measured and passionate sway of Markus Stenz and the golden tones of the Gürzenich Orchestra.
It is also strongly cast with the heroic Brandon Jovanovich and the full-voiced Barbara Haveman as the illicit lovers King Waldemar and Tove, and the austere-toned Claudia Mahnke as the wood dove who announces the murder of Tove by Waldemar's jealous queen. The men from the no less than six assembled Cologne choirs rampage wildly through the ghostly night hunt that Waldemar is condemned to pursue after he has cursed God. And Johannes Martin Kränze makes a convincing stab at Schoenberg's earliest use of Sprechtstimme in the exquisitely scored summer-wind section in which the souls of Waldemar and Tove are supposedly reunited, before the lift off into the work's glorious culminating sunrise.