Bruce Surtees
The Whole Note, Canada
October 2015

Gurrelieder, songs of Gurre, is one of the most exotic expressions of the late romantic era. The work, set to Jens Peter Jacobsen’s Gurre Sange, grew from a modest song cycle for two voices and piano into a giant cantata demanding an orchestra of twice the normal size, a triple male choir, a full choir and five soloists of post-Wagnerian capabilities. Not to mention a kitchen of iron chains. Beginning with the 1932 live Stokowski/Philadelphia and then the 1953 René Leibowitz (a pupil of Schoenberg)/Paris recordings, there are now 24 versions on CD and another on one DVD, almost all recorded in public concerts. For decades the work was considered unperformable and probably unsaleable (as did our own TSO in 2000, abruptly cancelling scheduled performances), undoubtedly because of Schoenberg’s role as the high priest of modernism whose music would not attract audiences. Nothing could be further from the truth, for this is the crowning glory of the high romantic, post-Wagnerian period.

This new performance is a product of the highest refinement of every aspect from individual players and ensembles inspired by a conductor who most clearly understands the innermost workings of this piece. The five soloists, whose names are not familiar, are perfectly cast and well understand the nuances of their roles. As the work resolves, the additional Sprechstimme role here receives a definitive performance, Kranzle naturally observing the implied pitches and occasionally breaking into actual singing as he announces the most glorious sunrise in all music. Quite an event. This whole production is a triumph not only for the performance but for the work itself which is now actually becoming popular.

The entire experience is captured in a recording of extraordinary clarity, balance and dynamics including the thunder of this vast array. It’s all there without any audible spotlighting. I consider this to be a most significant release and thoroughly recommendable.