Review: Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder from the Philharmonia

I adored this concert. With the prospect of LSO’s Gruppen at the Turbine Hall further down the Southbank on Saturday, the Philharmonia’s season closer presented itself as a much-anticipated near-capacity event fuelled by word-of-mouth.

It didn’t disappoint either. I was enraptured. Sure – I know the long-in-the-tooth reviewers will dismiss such apparent hyperbole. I know how I felt. I know I was transfixed. I know I thought the massed chorus from Trinity Laban, Royal College, Royal Academy and the Philharmonia were unequivocally stunning. I know I didn’t want it to end. I just wish I’d realised how to pronounce the name of one of the protagonists correctly (unlike in my post-concert video). 

It wasn’t faultless throughout. There were moments in the first part where I felt the singers were losing their battle with the massed forces of the Philharmonia. Under Esa-Pekka the orchestra was undoubtedly responsive but sometimes not always as precise as I assumed the score dictated. I noted down that ‘Loki’s Fiery Oats’ also lacked ‘clarity’. 

But still, this was quite the most amazing experience.

Part of that is possibly down to the fact (brace, brace) that I had never heard Gurrelieder before last night. I know. Shameful admission. The marvellous thing is that now I’ve heard it once, I want to immerse myself in it. 

People say that in Gurrelieder Schoenberg ‘out- Wagnered Wagner’. Personally, I think that’s bollocks (just as I think describing it as ‘Schoenberg’s Tristan und Isolde’ is bollocks too).

Personally, I think Schoenberg out- Straussed Strauss. Gurrelieder is like grown-up Strauss. It’s lush, captivating, absorbing but not aloof like Wagner. That’s why I think its closer to Strauss’ musical language (epic but inclusive) than Wagner (aloof). There. I’ve said it.

There’s one other thing we might all of us start doing – those of us who tweet and write and make podcasts and what have you. I think its important that we start hash-tagging our classical music events with ‘UK’ everywhere we can. We have a vibrant scene in many of our cities and further afield. We owe those who make the effort to put these events on and those who appear in them, to draw global attention to what they collectively achieve.

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