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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 19, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 51
The Heavy and The Light are excellent
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The Heavy and The Light are excellent

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

ARNOLD SCHÖNBERG'S
'GURRELIEDER' AND
'LIVE AUS DER SEMPEROPER:
THE LEHÁR GALA FROM DRESDEN'
DVDS


These two DVD's could hardly be more different. The one characteristic they share is that all involved, singers and orchestras, are excellent.

The first is a fine performance of Arnold Schönberg's 'Gurrelieder' with soloists Deborah Voigt, Stig Andersen, Mihoko Fujimura, Herwig Pecoraro, and Michael Volle, and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons. This two-hour work is scored for gigantic orchestra (4 harps, 10 French horns, 2 piccolos, 3 flutes, etc.) and huge choir (here a combination of three European choirs). Amazingly, there are no on-screen subtitles to the German words; a full translation is, however, included in the booklet. The nine-minute 'bonus' is in German, with no translation.

This heavy work is exceedingly complex. (Composer Alban Berg wrote a 100-page guide to it, describing the interwoven motives ... 129 of them!) Its harmonic nature is not the 12-tone, a-tonal scheme that characterize most of Schönberg's works; it is post-Wagnerian and sounds very tame to modern ears. The one point at which it approaches a-tonal is in a small part of the final section, when the baritone employs 'Sprechgesang,' a manner of singing without prescribed pitches. The scoring is exceedingly lush, often portraying nature sounds, and has a late romantic feel on a grand scale. Most of the orchestra plays most of the time, with very few softer, more intimate pauses, and with almost no instrumental solos. The volume and lushness becomes a little tiresome to these ears. Perhaps, if one studies Berg's 100-page guide...?

The voices must be of Wagnerian proportions, able to cut through so much sound. All of the above singers fully qualify. Voigt is in excellent voice, with excellent tops and some weakness in the middle voice, rather like her video as Brünnhilde in Wagner's RING. Stig Andersen, well past his prime, nonetheless holds up well; there is no wobble in the voice. The others have smaller parts but all are effective.

The DTS surround sound on this DVD is excellent. Even though it is not up to the DTS HD surround on Blu-ray, the orchestra is spacious, and balances are perfect. Jansons and his players cannot be faulted.

* * * * * * * * * *

The sound on the DVD of 'Live Aus Der Semperoper: The Lehár Gala from Dresden' is very much multi-miked mono and has no spaciousness whatsoever. That said, there is no obvious distortion and balances are fine. Here we have esteemed conductor Christian Thielemann leading the Staatskapelle Dresden and soloists Angela Denoke, Ana Maria Labin, and Piotr Beczala. The feather-light program is of excerpts from Lehár's operettas along with one each from Oscar Strauss and Johann Strauss II.

Pleasure from this DVD will depend almost entirely on how much one loves this light-classical music. For my ears, it's a bit too much of a good thing. The singers all know how to 'sell' their songs with personal charm and wit. Tenor Piotr Beczala is particularly effective and seems well suited to this genre. But one can get tired of so much Viennese schmaltz.

It is a joy to see at last inside the Dresden opera house. The orchestra is world-renown, and the atmosphere is relaxed and appropriate to the music. If you love Lehár, you can't go wrong with this disc.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: ALBUMS AND SINGLES
------------------------------
BEST OF MUSIC 2014: HOTTEST ARTISTS OF THE YEAR
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Best of Music 2014: Featured Artist Interview - An SGN exclusive interview with Jason Mraz
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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: LIVE PERFORMANCES
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WORST MUSIC OF 2014
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The Heavy and The Light are excellent
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