Monday, June 27, 2011

Gurre-Lieder in Paris

Gurre-Lieder, La Salle Pleyel in Paris, June 25 2011

Marc Albrecht ..... conductor

Ricarda Merbeth ..... Tove
Lance Ryan ..... Waldemar
Anna Larsson ..... the Dove
Barbara Sukowa ..... Narrator
Albert Dohmen ..... Bauer
Arnold Bezuyen ..... Klaus-Narr

Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno [Petr Fiala]

Songs of Gurre is a gigantic cantata composed for a large orchestra and a Wagnerian cast (plus  narrator) by Arnold Schoenberg. By its grandeur this romantic --post-Wagnerian-- work gets close to what Berlioz was doing in his time [large orchestra, big cast, chorus.]

It is based on a Danish medieval tragedy collected in poems by Jens Peter Jacobsen [Gurre stands for a castle in Denmark], and it tells a story of a tragic love of the Danish king Waldemar, who fell in love with young Tuva, who later got killed by the jealous queen Helvig which sends Waldemar to infinite despair...

Of course it is all much more poetic and progresses subtly during nearly two hours of music that  fascinates by its mood swings, its eeriness... and its power to whirl you in very fast. It is a great example that it was possible to live in post-Wagnerian era, find a support in Wagnerian romanticism,  but transcend it [this is particularly evident in the 3rd part of the Gurre-Lieder.] That's one of the aspects that makes this music so special (it paved the path to Berg) and separate it from the works by Pfitzner, Hindemith, and others.

The king Waldemar is a role for helden-tenor and Lance Ryan was a luxurious choice for this concert. The difference between him and many other active helden-tenors is that he has that typical wagnerian timbre, but is capable to nail the top notes almost effortlessly. If you combine that with his excellent scenic presence, you can understand why his Siegfried in Strasbourg was so hugely praised by everyone. Ricarda Merbeth was his passionate Tove, and the superb cast for this occasion was completed by two super-singers singing the short roles: Albert Dohmen and Arnold Bezuyen.

If you have to single out someone who did incredibly well here then Anna the-awesome Larsson did a stunning job in the celebrated Wood Dove's Song. That's the part in which the dove tells Waldemar that Tove was killed. Anna showed off her velvety natural alto that stretches in a beautiful swing to a soprano register where it gains a new kind of beauty. That double-sidedness of her voice is what makes her Kundry so compelling: in act 1 and 3 of Parsifal she sounds very different from Kundry in Act 2, which brings the drama a new vocal emphasis. To that add the volume that makes her voice beam splendidly through the huge orchestra conducted by Marc Albrecht (a tad too loud for my taste). As for the orchestra and chorus it was all executed with brio.

I was happy to see la salle Pleyel full with people. Schoenberg's music is still considered as "difficult" and people could have preferred to opt for an outdoor weekend --rather than rushing to Pleyel-- but they came and were apparently exulted after this superb concert.

To bad the France Musique radio or Arte Live Web did not record this concert that was one of the highlights of the 2010-2011 season of classical music in Paris.

Anna Larsson

Marc Albrecht and Lance Ryan

Anna Larsson and Ricarda Merbeth

Barbara Sukowa and Lance Ryan


  1. Any hope of us in America listening to a broadcast on the web?

  2. Hi Kannan,

    There were no mikes installed for this concert which I thought was not clever on the side of folks responsible for the media work at La Salle Pleyel, as this was definitely the highlight of their 2010-2011 season, and keeping this would make them proud of themselves in the future.

    So, alas, no broadcast ;(