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Gardner Conducts Gurrelieder – Southbank Centre

The London Philharmonic Orchestra, under its chief conductor Edward Gardner, opened its 2022-23 season at the Royal Festival Hall with a thrilling performance of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder.

Edward Gardner, Alex Jennings and London Philharmonic Orchestra (c) London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Edward Gardner, Alex Jennings and London Philharmonic Orchestra (c) London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Composed between 1900 and 1911 for vast forces – an orchestra of 150 including 4 harps and Wagner Tubas, choir and 6 soloists – Schoenberg came to disparage this early work as it was written in a romantic style – lush, sensual, exciting, sexual – which was completely alien to his later works which used “Tone Rows”. Clearly influenced by Wagner as well as Scriabin, Debussy, and Zemlinsky (or perhaps Schoenberg influenced them!) this huge song cycle uses Danish poetry, itself based on mediaeval legends, translated into German, telling the tale of two Lovers, King Waldemar and Tove. When their love is discovered by Waldemar’s wife, Queen Helwig, she has Tove killed, a blow from which Waldemar never recovers, accusing God of being a tyrant.

In this performance, Waldemar was heroically sung by David Butt Philip and Tove by Lise Lindstrom.

However, by far the best singing and acting of the evening came from Karen Cargill, whose only song in the role of Wood Nymph revealed not only a superb mezzo-soprano voice but also the ability to act with the voice and really use the words to create atmosphere: this was superb in every way. Another singer able to act and communicate with the audience was Robert Murray as The Fool.

Alex Jennings undertook the role of The Speaker in the final part of Gurrelieder: The Wild Hunt of the Summer Wind. The part is notated but half sung, half spoken in what has come to be called ‘sprechstimme’. Jennings coped well with this, but it was slightly strange to hear him speak using an English translation when the rest of the evening had been performed in German, especially as there were excellent surtitles.

As intimated already, the world-class LPO was superb in every respect, especially the ten double basses providing firm support throughout, the principal trumpet and principal oboe, and the London Philharmonic Choir and Symphony Chorus, especially the lower voices, were more than equal to being heard above the sound of the orchestra in full flow.

Guided by Edward Gardner, this was a truly memorable evening of music not often heard ‘live’, the almost full house being fully appreciative of what they had experienced. I left the hall shell-shocked and uplifted by the performance – a great evening of great music!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Edward Gardner conductor
Lise Lindstrom soprano, Tove
Karen Cargill mezzo-soprano, Waldtaube
David Butt Philip tenor, Waldemar
Robert Murray tenor, Klaus-Narr
James Creswell bass-baritone, Bauer
Alex Jennings speaker
London Philharmonic Choir
Members of London Symphony Chorus
Schoenberg: Gurrelieder (performed in German, with English surtitles)

Gardner Conducts Gurrelieder
Sat 24 Sep, 7pm
Part of Classical music
Royal Festival Hall
Classical music

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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