What a chillingly beautiful story the Danish poet Jens Peter Jacobsen developed in 1871 from an old Danish saga: a 12th-century king falls in love with a young woman and invites her to Gurre, his castle, where she is murdered by the jealous queen. Driven to near madness by grief over the loss of his beloved, the king curses God. As punishment for this blasphemy he is condemned to hunt with his vassals through the night as a restless spirit forever – always in search of his dead lover, whose voice he seems to detect in the sounds of the forest.
One can easily imagine it as the subject for a great Romantic opera. But it was in the form of a song cycle that Arnold Schoenberg initially embraced this tale in 1899. A year later he decided to make this tragic love-cum-ghost story the basis of a full-length work. Schoenberg’s time as a musical revolutionary had not yet come, and so Gurre-Lieder represents a sumptuous swan song for the age of musical late Romanticism.
Supporting Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker in their performance of this exceptional, and exceptionally demanding, work, are the Rundfunkchor Berlin, the radio choruses of WDR and MDR and the Vest Bergen Chorus, as well as a stellar ensemble of soloists, led by Soile Isokoski, Stephen Gould and Thomas Quasthoff as the Narrator. The concert concluded a week of celebrating the Philharmonie’s 50th birthday.