“He is the most honest of all composers,” Sir Simon Rattle once said about Robert Schumann. During Rattle’s tenure as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker Schumann has increasingly become a stronger focus of the orchestra’s work, and all the Schumann symphonies were programmed during the 2008/2009 season, with various conductors. The “secular oratorio” Das Paradies und die Peri (Paradise and the Peri) was also presented under Rattle’s baton – a work which Sir Simon has said he would take with him to the proverbial “desert island”. Schumann himself regarded Peri as one of his best compositions. After great successes during his lifetime, the work was almost completely forgotten later. One of its admirers was the great Italian maestro Carlo Maria Giulini, who drew Sir Simon’s attention to the beauty of the underrated score.
The work, which combines oratorical, operatic and songlike characteristics in an oriental atmosphere, seems to hover between the worlds, like its protagonist. The peri, whose story Schumann drew from Thomas Moore’s epic tale Lalla Rookh, has both earthly and celestial origins. During the story she tries to gain admittance to paradise, which should actually remain closed to her because of her background. The international ensemble of soloists was led by soprano Sally Matthews as the peri and baritone Christian Gerhaher, who has championed Robert Schumann’s lesser-known works for many years and shares Simon Rattle’s enthusiasm for Das Paradies und die Peri.