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Quite a feat, and in the end a triumph

Kultur- und Kongresscentrum Luzern
09/14/2010 -  
Arnold Schönberg: Gurre-Lieder
Christine Brewer (Tove), Petra Lang (Wood dove), Stephen Gould (Waldemar), Andreas Conrad (Fool), Stephen Powell (Peasant), Wolfgang Schöne (speaker)
North German Radio (NDR) Choir, Ladies of the Chœur du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Latvian State Academic Choir, Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, David Zinman (conductor)

D. Zinman (© Prisca Ketterer)

150 members of the two most renowned Swiss orchestras, over a hundred choristers from three choirs, six international soloists – a performance of the Gurre-Lieder is a rare and most welcome event.

Although Gurre-Lieder might appear to be fairly conductor-proof with many styles able to throw light on Schoenberg’s monumental canvas, it needs a capable conductor to hold all these forces together in performance. This concert had been rehearsed by the two separate orchestras in Zurich and Geneva (one should not forget that these cities are three hours travelling time apart), then played in Montreux before coming to Lucerne. The acoustics in each hall were different; Lucerne’s hall is open and transparent and could not hide some slight lack of ensemble. This was hardly a surprise, given the varied forces, but meant the opening flutes - who could not easily sit close together - failed to gel. However Zinman soon marshalled his forces and threw much light on Schoenberg’s rich orchestral colours and thrilled in the orchestral climaxes. He was clearly alive to the work’s Romanticism, whilst maintaining a firm structural grip. Quite a feat and, in the end, a triumph.

Stephen Gould was a stalwart rock-solid Waldemar, firm and steady but lacking a degree of warmth and response to text. These are songs of love after all and could have displayed more gentleness. Christine Brewer had plenty of Wagnerian puissance and vocal girth for the role of Tove and her fine burnished tone was always easy on the ear, soaring effortlessly onto her top notes. Stephen Powell as the Peasant was too chesty a baritone for my liking and his diction a tad unclear. There can, of course, be no beating German natives for German diction: Andreas Conrad was a fine Klaus-Fool, beautifully and clearly sung; he would make a great Mime. Wolfgang Schöne as the Speaker was a master of tongue-twisting Sprechgesang, more sung than spoken as sometimes the case, and was full of wonder in the final lines.

The three choirs impressed, particularly the rich Basses with some of their low notes (was it perhaps in particular the Latvian contribution?).

But the undoubted star of the show was Petra Lang as the forest bird, who simply took our breath away with her dark colours, steely determination and searing attack.

John Rhodes



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