Simon Rattle conducts Schumann’s “Paradise and the Peri”
Sir Simon Rattle
Sally Matthews, Mark Padmore, Anna Prohaska, Gerhild Romberger, Andrew Staples, Christian Gerhaher
Paradise and the Peri, op. 50
Sally Matthews soprano, Mark Padmore tenor, Anna Prohaska soprano, Gerhild Romberger contralto, Andrew Staples tenor, Christian Gerhaher baritone, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Gijs Leenaars chorus master
In 2014, when Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker presented their performance of Robert Schumann’s four symphonies on CD, Deutschlandradio Kultur said this first release of the then newly launched label Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings was “to die for”. The newspaper Die Welt reported that the orchestra and its chief conductor were hot on the trail of “the visionary Schumann”, and Die Zeit wrote that the recording fully explored the “experimental, even anarchist potential” of a composer often underrated as a symphonist. The fact that critical undertones could also be heard is only to be expected when new interpretive ground is broken in the field of supposedly well-known works of the repertoire.
But the conventional wisdom that Schumann didn’t know how to orchestrate is not only a view that Sir Simon did not and does not adhere to, but is something he disagrees with vehemently – and proposes a daring thesis: Schumann’s revision of the D minor Symphony, premiered unsuccessfully by Leipzig’s Gewandhausorchester in 1841, was based principally on an attempt to also make the work interesting for less experienced orchestras at that time. Where Schumann did score a success in his time was with the orchestra of the Städtischer Musikverein Düsseldorf, which helped the D minor Symphony achieve its breakthrough in a performance at the Niederrheinisches Musikfest in 1854 – an orchestra, incidentally, in which amateurs played alongside professionals. As chief conductor of one of the world’s leading orchestras, Sir Simon sees it today as his artistic duty to do justice to Schumann’s original intentions. For this reason he bears not only a fondness for the original version of the D minor Symphony, but also for a composition in which Schumann delivered “orchestrally, an absolute paradigm”:
Das Paradies und die Peri. The oratorio, first performed in Leipzig in 1843, tells of an outcast, the child of a fallen angel and a mortal woman, who is denied a place in Paradise. Only after a series of tests is the Peri – as the title character is called, taken from the Persian – purified and accepted in the ranks of the blessed. In their performances of Schumann’s rarely heard work, the Berliner Philharmoniker, under the baton of Sir Simon, are supported by the Rundfunkchor Berlin and a star-studded ensemble of soloists, including Mark Padmore who is the current artist in residence, and Christian Gerhaher, artist in residence of the 2013/2014 season.
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