Concert Review: BBC Prom 41: Schoenberg - Gurrelieder: Royal Albert Hall ✭✭✭✭✭

It's a always nice to discover an appreciation for something new. 

Last night I went to see Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms.

It was performed by renowned soloists Angela Denoke (soprano), Simon O'Neill (tenor -Waldemar), Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano - Wood-Dove),  Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (tenor - Klaus the Fool),
Neal Davies (bass-baritone - Peasant) and Wolfgang Schöne along with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the BBC Singers and guest choirs under the baton of Jukka-Pekka Saraste.

The first (and only time before this) I went to a concert at the RAH, I came to the conclusion from all the empty seats, that coming to see classical music was a dying pastime. 

But last night, competing against the closing ceremony of the Olympics, Schoenberg had a full house.

The spectacle of the inside of the building is enough to thrill, but my excitement built as the the place filled up. People took their seats, some making clear their rank of classical concert frequenter by declaring as loudly but casually as possible that, "It's much fuller than the last time we came isn't it Henry?"

Then with clashing chords of tuning up increasing in volume, it was the musicians turn to filter onto stage. It was strange to think that the plastic coke bottle littered streets, still existed 40 feet from where this high art form was about to unfold. 

The production started. 

The most important convention to observe when watching classical music (apparently) is to stifle coughing as much as possible. Ironic then, that the classical concert going crowd, seems to be one of the highest collective sufferers of bronchial conditions that ever chose to gather together in an echoey hall. 

To be fair, it seems to me to be on a par with laughing in Church; the minute you are told that you mustn't do it, every reflex in your body is gripped by the need to. 

I had no idea of the journey the next hour and 50 minutes would take me on. I had enjoyed the last production I had come to see at the RAH, but that was music I knew- my enjoyment was recognising them played with these acoustics. This piece however, I was completely unfamiliar with, and was in German. I didn't have a clue what to expect, or whether indeed the experience would have any effect on me at all.

The story is of a medieval King Waldemar of Denmark and his love for Lady Tove, who (unsurprisingly) dies, leaving him bereft. 

The saga is constructed of 3 parts, and I have to confess that I glanced at my watch half way through part 1 as I wondered how many more ways Waldemar and Tove's undying love could be expressed by.

But with classical music, it seems, it's the death scene where the music really starts reaching into your chest as if the Timpani player was banging out those crashing booms on your very ribs. 

By half way through part 2, a whole army of skeletons had been raised from the dead and the unmatched spooky sound of a male vice choir singing (in German):

"Our arrows fly from un-strung bows,
With hollow eyes and hands of bone."

This had the hairs on my arms standing up. 

The final part, sees the skeletons going back to bed, and the production ends with a song that celebrates life as The Speaker reminds us that there is much to be thankful for in the world. I consider myself good with words, but check this out:

"From your flower chalice Ladybird fly now...... The waves already dance about the cliff.... The birds of the wood are all astir, A flower shakes dew from her hair, and gazes up towards the sun. Awaken, awaken all ye flowers, to joy!"

Pretty uplifting stuff, I say.

The full Chorus takes us home on a high with a triumphant 'Hymn To The Sun' in an affirmative C Major which makes your eyes prickle. 

To conclude, I'll be going to more classical concerts.

5 stars ✭✭✭✭✭

Review by Sassy Clyde

Gurrelieder (99 mins)

Angela Denoke soprano
Simon O'Neill tenor (Waldemar)
Katarina Karnéus mezzo-soprano (Wood-Dove)
Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts tenor (Klaus the Fool)
Neal Davies bass-baritone (Peasant)
Wolfgang Schöne speaker
BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Chorus
Crouch End Festival Chorus
New London Chamber Choir
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jukka-Pekka Saraste conductor