Proms 2017, review: Gurrelieder LSO/Rattle

Barry Millington
Shaking the celestial vaults: Sir Simon Rattle: Chris Christodoulou

There’s a cataclysmic moment in Schoenberg’s gargantuan Gurrelieder when the bereaved King Waldemar threatens to storm heaven itself with his warriors to be reunited with his beloved Tove, murdered by his jealous wife.

Simon Rattle and his magnificent massed ranks of musicians – the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus plus the CBSO Chorus and Orfeó Català – indeed seemed to shake the celestial vaults here, though miraculously there was still something in reserve for the work’s apotheosis.

The glorious choral sunrise, with over five hundred voices and instruments in full cry, provides one of those stupendous experiences that the Proms does so well. It’s also on such occasions that the cavernous Albert Hall comes into its own.

The role of Waldemar was taken with heroic determination by Simon O’Neill, whose penetrating tenor is less than voluptuous but generally successful in scything through the dense orchestral undergrowth. The part of Tove has less formidable forces to contend with – her sensuous music is usually supported by thinned-out wind and strings – and Eva-Maria Westbroek relished the long, succulent Wagnerian lines. Even better was the enchanting song of the Wood-Dove delivered by Karen Cargill, one of the highlights of the evening.

Also impressive were Peter Hoare as Klaus the Fool, Christopher Purves as the Peasant, who fearfully relates the supernatural events of the Wild Hunt, and Thomas Quasthoff, who dispatched the semi-notated part of the Speaker with thrilling immediacy. Catch on BBC 4, September 3, or iPlayer.

The BBC Proms (bbc.co.uk/proms) continue until Sept 9.