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A Rare Schumann Encounter

Musikverrein Vienna
10/20/2012 -  & October 21*, 2012
Robert Schumann: Das Paradies und die Peri
Annette Dasch (soprano), Bernarda Fink (mezzosoprano), Susan Gritton (soprano), Topi Lehtipuu (tenor), Andrew Staples (tenor), Florian Boesch (baritone)
Arnold Schoenberg Chor, Erwin Ortner (chorus master), Wiener Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)

Sir S. Rattle (© Mat Hennek/EMI Classics)

Robert Schumann's Cantata Das Paradies und die Peri is based on an episode from Thomas Moore's book Lalla-Rookh. Robert Schumann was presumably familiar with Moore's epos, because his father was the publisher of its first translation into German. The rather complicated story is deeply rooted in the 19th century’s fascination of the Western World with oriental mysticism. According to Persian mythology, the Peri - etymologically related to "fairy" - is a descendant of a fallen angel. Peri is denied access to paradise until she has done penance: in order to gain access she has to present a very special gift to the Angel guarding over the entrance to paradise. First she offers the last drop of blood of a dying hero, but that doesn't do the trick. She next tries offering the last breath of a young girl dying from the plague - also in vain. She eventually offers a tear from the cheek of a repentant old sinner after he has seen a child praying. She is finally allowed into paradise. Robert Schumann assisted Emil Flechsig in the translation and adaptation of Thomas Moore's novel for his Cantata Das Paradies und die Peri.

This very romantic, grandiloquent and sometimes overblown work had been modified and ideologically exploited by the Nazi regime. Hugely popular during the Third Reich, it completely disappeared from our concert halls after 1945. Only recently has Schumann's original version emerged from its beauty sleep. Sir Simon Rattle, who already performed Das Paradies und die Peri in 2009 in Berlin, now chose this almost forgotten work for the Vienna Philharmonic subscription concert at the Musikverein. He displayed enormous empathy for the composition.

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra continues to amaze: more than half of the orchestra is currently out of town touring Japan and China with the Vienna State Opera. Yet there remains a large enough contingent of the Vienna Philharmonic in town to perform every night at the Staatsoper as well as subscription concerts at the Musikverein, at their usual high level of excellence. Sir Simon Rattle could rely on the velvety sound of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, from the incredible warmth and homogeneity of the contrabass group to the perfection of the woodwinds. Rattle’s choice of overall taut tempi helped alleviate the shortcomings of Schumann’s instrumentation. The Arnold Schönberg Chorus, under Chorus Master Erwin Ortner, was, as usual, well prepared. However, given their expertise in contemporary music, they sounded at times detached and not quite in the vein of Schumann’s romanticism.

Andrew Staples' warm tenor was a pleasure to listen to. He stood out from an otherwise unspectacular team of vocal soloists.

The Vienna Philharmonic

Wiebke Kuester



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