The Glory of Sound

Schoenberg – Gurrelieder.

Tove – Violeta Urmana

Waldemar – Nikolai Schukoff

Waldtaube – Daniela Denschlag

Klaus-Narr – Gerhard Siegel

Bauer – Alexander Tsymbalyuk

Sprecher – Thomas Quasthoff

Wiener Singverein, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Kammerchor.

Wiener Philharmoniker / Zubin Mehta.

Musikverein, Vienna. Saturday, June 2nd, 2012.

Attending a concert at the Vienna Musikverein is always a privilege and attending a concert where the work being performed was actually premiered there 99 years ago is even more of a privilege. Apparently at the premiere there were 600 in the chorus and although today’s performance was ‘chamber-sized’ in comparison, it still packed an incredible punch.

I last heard this work conducted by Jansons in Munich in 2009 with an under-form Deborah Voigt in the soprano part. There Jansons paced Part 1 to perfection but let the latter parts drag somewhat. Here today it was the opposite. I found Mehta far too unwilling to press ahead in Part 1 and the orchestral playing was less than impeccable – far too many fluffed entries from the brass and the strings lacked amplitude. I also felt that he was holding them back to allow his soloists to be heard and I spent most of Part 1 wishing that he would just let the orchestra off their reins and tear into the music. This is a young man’s music, full of passion and urgency and it didn’t quite live in the way that it could have. That said, parts 2 and 3 were splendidly done and paced well.

Violeta Urmana was a superb soprano soloist. Her voice had glorious amplitude and was even throughout the range. Her ‘du sendest mir einen Liebesblick’ was beautifully done. I just wished that she had held onto that last top note a bit longer. Daniela Denschlag’s Wood Dove was efficient enough though not particularly individual. In the second half, Gerhard Siegel sang the Fool’s lines extremely well as did Alexander Tysmbalyuk’s resonant Bass in the role of the Peasant. Thomas Quasthoff’s speaker is a known quantity although he was surprisingly somewhat rhythmically approximate. I really wish that Mehta had cast a lady speaker as they had at the premiere. Nikolai Schukoff’s Waldemar was decent enough. He got through the role and didn’t crack but his voice was perhaps a few sizes too small for the music and he really didn’t dominate the piece in the way that he should have done. It’s a killer though and it’s good that he got through it.

The choral singing though was what really distinguished this performance. The combined choruses sang splendidly. Those tricky chromatic sequences were beautifully done (although Mehta rushed it along a little too much) and the Wild Hunt chorus was wonderful. Mehta really let the orchestra loose at this point and the sound was overwhelming. Finally, ‘Seht die Sonne’ was quite frankly the best I have ever heard it. It filled the hall with golden sound and it overtook me physically – my body was literally shaking with the sound produced, it was marvellous and overwhelming. That alone was worth the journey to Vienna and the price of the ticket.

Incidentally, one very small gripe – why does the program book insist on saying that Mehta was music director of the ‘Montreal Symphony Orchestra’ in English and not ‘Orchestre symphonique de Montréal’ as it should be when they list his other directorships in the original language?


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