Thursday 13 October 2011

Chamber version of Schoenberg's 'Lied der Waldtaube': Norman/EIC/Boulez

Performances of Gurrelieder are, for obvious reasons, infrequent. It remains one of the great 'special occasion' works, more so even than Mahler's Eighth Symphony. (Oddly, I have never heard a bad performance of Schoenberg's early masterwork, whereas I have heard far too many pointless accounts of the so-called 'Symphony of a Thousand', one very recently indeed.) It is not forbidding in the way that Moses und Aron is (or at least people who do not listen to it fear that it might be); it is simply a huge undertaking. Yet I have never knowingly met a listener who did not fall in love with Gurrelieder. Sincerity is never enough, of course, but the greatness of Schoenberg as a human being as well as a musician shines through the pages of his vast cantata. It is, then,  all the more bewildering that the chamber version of the 'Song of the Wood-dove' is not performed every other night by ensemble and soprano. Nothing will ever replace the luxurious full orchestral version, but if Schoenberg's ideas on instrumentation progressed throughout his work on the original - one of the many fascinating voyages one takes in a performance - they had done all the more so by 1922, the time of that unaccountably neglected masterpiece, the Serenade, op.24. Here are Jessye Norman, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, and Pierre Boulez, in a recording I have loved since I first heard it.

Those who know the full work will be aware of the context for subtly increasing terror; those who do not should rectify that state of affairs as a matter of urgency... And soloists, ensembles, conductors, please permit us to hear in the flesh this and many other of the composer's works. Gurrelieder may never be performed every day, but Schoenberg should be.