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Michael Gielen Edition - Volume 7
rec. 1961-2006
Mono/stereo: ADD/DDD
SWR MUSIC SWR19061CD [8 CDs: 585 mins]

A few years ago I was given a 3-DVD set of the complete symphonies of Beethoven conducted by Michael Gielen. I found his no-nonsense approach quite refreshing and decided to purchase the CD set equivalent. It was my introduction to the conductor, an SWR production, as is this 8 CD set, volume 7 in the label's impressive Michael Gielen Edition. Dan Morgan has already outlined the salient points of the conductor's biography and listed the previous volumes in his detailed review.

The previous volumes cover music by Bach through to Stravinsky. This one focuses on 20th century music, an area that Gielen enthusiastically championed throughout his career. The performances were set down between 1961 and 2006. Some of the works featured have been previously issued, but we are also treated to generous helpings of first releases. Each of the eight discs is themed.

Janáček is paired with Zeminsky on CD 1, with the former occupying the lions share. I've never personally felt drawn to the Glagolitic Mass, but Gielen delivers an idiomatic reading, suitably rugged and with plenty of bite. The choir and soloists are first class, and the balance between the vocal elements and orchestra is ideal. Taras Bulba, on the other hand, is a work I adore, and the performance, showcasing some lush strings and burnished brass, doesn't disappoint.  The same forces as those for the Glagolitic Mass capture the mood of Zemlinsky's Psalm 23 to perfection, with the climaxes sensitively hewn.

From Prague we travel to America in CD 2. The first four works derive from a live concert from Stuttgart given by the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR on 21 June 1975. Two of the works are completely new to me. Sun-Treader by Carl Ruggles is a terrific piece, based on a line from Robert Browning's poem "Sun-Treader, Light and Life be thine forever". A highly imaginative score, dissonant chaos alternates with moments of calm. The timpani hammer blows which open the work give a flavour of the portentous drama which follows. Tabuh-Tabuhan by Colin McPhee doesn’t grab me. A synthesis of Balinese gamelan music and Western composition techniques, it calls for two solo pianos, and is cast in three movements. I find its repetitious narrative lacks substance. The Charles Ives works I'm much more familiar with, and Gielen's account of Central Park in the Dark is suitably atmospheric. Eduard Steuermann's Variations for Orchestra were taped in the studio. They clearly reveal in influence of Schoenberg and Webern, especially the latter for their terseness. Gielen is a deft hand at pointing up some colourful sonorities. He’s equally successful in the scintillating Arcana by Edgard Varèse’.

Three CDs are devoted to French music - Debussy and Ravel, a perennial pairing. Le Martyre de saint Sébastien  started life as a mystery written by Gabriele D’Annunzio. It combined the myth of Adonis with the Christian sacrifice of St. Sebastian. In its original form it was an amalgam of cantata, opera and ballet for orchestra, chorus and soloists, with five acts lasting five hours. Here we have a much shorter version without texts and with three female soloists. Michel Tilson Thomas still leads the field in this work for me, offering finer solo contributions and better sound. Nocturnes I did enjoy. The three movements Nuages, Fêtes and Sirènes are exquisitely drafted and Gielen savours their rich harmonies. From Ravel we have a complete Daphnis et Chloë, where Gielen's sense of fantasy and imagination instils some magic touches. His La Valse, though, is no match for the Dutoit version which, for me, has never been matched. The Valses nobles et sentimentales are elegantly contoured.

‘Music of transition’ is the title of CD 4 and, together with the American disc, is my favourite of the set. Busoni and Reger are no easy listen, and it took me several years to fully appreciate the riches that lie within their music. All three of the Busoni works are dark and sombre and have an elegiac aspect. Each is superbly orchestrated, and these performances serve them well. The Reger piano Concerto is played by the late, lamented South African pianist Steven de Groote, a studio recording from 1987, set down two years before his untimely death at the age of thirty-six. Harmonically dense and complex, Gielen teases out some colourful orchestral detail, freeing up the sound so it doesn't become too congested. De Groote takes us on a thrilling journey, with dazzling pianism and a purposeful sense of direction. There are also some glowing poetic moments.

Operatic excerpts and orchestral lieder accommodate CD 6. I'm not particularly an opera excerpts fan, but the performances are all in fine sound, and the singers are beyond reproach. What impressed me most was the glorious voice of  mezzo Waltraud Meier’s in two songs from Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder - ‘Der Engel’ and ‘Träume’. Her rich, warm, tightly focused voice is ideally suited to this repertoire, and I wish I could have heard her in all five songs, such was the pleasure I got from these expressive accounts. Richard Strauss’ Wiegenlied is equally compelling.

So, what have we left? Aside from authoritative performances of more familiar repertoire in the shape of  Scriabin's Symphony No. 3, ‘Le divin poème’, Hindemith's Symphonie ‘Mathis der Maler’ and Richard Strauss' Tod und Verklärung, there are a couple of rarities which deserve special mention. Franz Schreker's Vorspiel zu einem Drama of 1913 is based on the Prelude to his opera Die Gezeichneten. Like the opera, which is a great favorite of mine, this orchestral piece draws on lush erotic harmonies, passionate lyricism and a panoply of orchestral colours. Goffredo Petrassi's Concerto per orchestra No. 1 of 1933-4 is clearly influenced by Stravinsky in its neo-classical thrust.

There's much to enjoy in this attractively compiled set, and it will have special resonance for Michael Gielen enthusiasts. A mixture of live and studio recordings, all are well-recorded and I didn't detect any balance issues. The excellent booklet notes in German and English are an added bonus, and I found them particularly useful in providing background and context to the music I wasn't familiar with. All told, it constitutes a splendid bargain.

Stephen Greenbank 
 
Previous review: Dan Morgan

Contents (* denotes first release)

CD 1 – Prague [71:35]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Mša Glagolskaja (Glagolitic Mass (final version, 1928) [39:27]
Ellen Shade (soprano); Márta Szirmay (alto); Thomas Moser (tenor); Günter Reich (bass); Imrich Szabó (organ)
Slovak Philharmonic Choir Bratislava
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. June 1988, Schwarzach, Münster
Taras Bulba (1915-1918) [22:05]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. November 1986, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden
Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Psalm 23, Op. 14, for chorus and orchestra (1900) [10:27]
Slovak Philharmonic Choir Bratislava
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. June 1988, Schwarzach, Münster

CD 2 – America [78:47]
Carl RUGGLES (1876-1971)
Sun-Treader (1928-1931) [14:34] *
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
rec. live, 21 June 1975, SDR, Funkstudio Berg, Sendesaal II, Stuttgart
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Central Park in the Dark (1906) [10:08] *
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
rec. live, 21 June 1975, SDR, Funkstudio Berg, Sendesaal II, Stuttgart
General William Booth Enters into Heaven (1913) [5:12] *
Richard Anlauf (baritone)
SWR Vokalensemble
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
rec. live, 21 June 1975, SDR, Funkstudio Berg, Sendesaal II, Stuttgart
Colin McPHEE (1900-1964)
Tabuh-Tabuhan – Toccata for Orchestra (1936) [16:29] *
Claude Helffer, Peter Roggenkamp (pianos)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
rec. live, 21 June 1975, SDR, Funkstudio Berg, Sendesaal II, Stuttgart
Charles IVES
The Unanswered Question (1906) [5:21]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. February 1995, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden
Edgard VARÈSE (1883-1965)
Arcana (1925-1927) [17:53] *
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. February 1995, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden
Eduard STEUERMANN (1892-1964)
Variations for Orchestra (1958) [8:20]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. February 1990, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden

CD 3 – Debussy [78:01]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911) [52:42] *
Cathérine Gayer (soprano); Hanna Aurbacher, Brigitte Messthaler (alto)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
SWR Vokalensemble
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
rec. live, 14 April 1972, Liederhalle, Beethovensaal, Stuttgart
Nocturnes (1897-1899) [25:02] *
SWR Vokalensemble (women’s voices)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
rec. live, 30 October 1975, Liederhalle, Beethovensaal, Stuttgart

CD 4 – Music of transition [74:42]
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Berceuse élégiaque, Op. 42 (1909) [7:22]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. February 1995, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden
Nocturne symphonique, Op. 43 (1913) [6:52] *
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
rec. live, 29 October 1980, Liederhalle, Beethovensaal, Stuttgart
2 Studien zu Doktor Faust, Op. 51 (1916-1924) [18:05]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. December 1987, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 114 (1910) [41:41]
Steven de Groote (piano)
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. December 1987, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden

CD 5 – On the way to consolidation [68:27]
Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Vorspiel zu einem Drama (1913) [18:39]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. February 1995, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Symphonie ‘Mathis der Maler’ (1934) [26:41] *
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken
rec. February 1968, Studio K (Großer Sendesaal des SR), Saarbrücken
Goffredo PETRASSI (1904-2003)
Concerto per orchestra No. 1 (1933/1934) [22:39] *
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. January 1961, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden

CD 6 – Kitsch or art on TV [64:17]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier (1911) *
‘Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren’ [6:56]
Christiane Boesiger (soprano); Cornelia Kallisch (mezzo)
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
TV production, June 1997, Kurhaus, Bénazet-Saal, Baden-Baden
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Madama Butterfly (1904) *
‘Un bel dì, vedremo’ [4:21]
‘Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio’ [12:51]
Elizabeth Whitehouse (soprano); Margit Neubauer (mezzo)
Chor der Oper Frankfurt
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
TV production, June 1997, Kurhaus, Bénazet-Saal, Baden-Baden
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Wesendonck-Lieder – excerpts (1858) *
Der Engel [3:11]
Träume [4:40]
Waltraud Meier (mezzo)
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
TV production, November 1993, St. Peter, Klosterkirche
Richard STRAUSS
Wiegenlied, Op. 41/1 (1899) [3:42] *
Waltraud Meier (mezzo)
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
TV production, November 1993, St. Peter, Klosterkirche
Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 (1888-1889) [27:50] *
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. live, 4 May 2006, Konzerthaus, Freiburg

CD 7 – Ravel [73:27]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloë (complete) (1910-1912) [57:50]
EuropaChorAkademie
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. September 1997, Konzerthaus, Freiburg
Une barque sur l’océan, (1910) [7:47]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. January 1997, Konzerthaus, Freiburg
Alborada del gracioso (1918) [7:25] *
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. January 1997, Konzerthaus, Freiburg

CD 8 – Ravel’s waltzes and Scriabin [76:25]
Maurice RAVEL
Valses nobles et sentimentales (1912) [17:36]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
rec. live, 10 October 1975, SDR, Funkstudio Berg, Sendesaal II, Stuttgart
Alexander SCRIABIN (1871-1915)
Symphony No. 3, ‘Le divin poème’, Op. 43 (1902-1904) [45:56]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. May 1975, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden
Maurice RAVEL
La valse (1919-1920) [12:51] *
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
rec. live, 24 March 1993, Philharmonie, Köln



 




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