SCHUMANN: Das Paradies und die Peri
Dorothea Röschmann (Peri), Malin Hartelius (Maiden), sopranos; Rebecca Martin, mezzo-soprano; Bernarda Fink, contralto (Angel); Werner Güra, tenor (narrator); Christian Gerhaher, baritone (Gazna); Christoph Strehl, narrator; Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orch/Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond.
RCA RED SEAL SACD 88697 27155 (2 disks) TT: 56:46 & 44:24

LANGGAARD: Symphony No. 1 in B minor "Mountain Pastorals."
Danish National Symphony Orch/Thomas Dausgaard, cond.
DA CAPO SACD 6.220525 TT: 60:30

BACH: Motets BWV 229, 226, 230,227, 228, 225
Netherlands Kamerkoor/Peter Fijkstra, cond.

Robert Schmann considered the semi-oratorio Paradise and the Peri to be among his best works. Schumann and Emil Flechsig wrote the libretto based on Thomas Moore's oriental epic Lalla Rookh about efforts of the Peri to get into Heaven. A Peri is a child produced by the union of a fallen angel and a human female and as such cannot be admitted into Paradise. However, Peri is eager to get there and is told by the guardian of the gates he will let her in if she can wash herself free of all sin and offers "the gift dearest to Heaven"—but doesn't tell her what it is. After two unsuccessful attempts at finding the gift, she finally finds it—the tears of an aged lecher, and her goal finally is reached. For this implausible story Schumann has written some of his loveliest music.He conducted the premiere in Leipzig December 4, 1843, and it was his first major success, performed more than fifty times before his death in 1856. Some say the work fell into oblivion when the Nazis changed the story and used it for propaganda purposes. In the '80's it was resurrected. Harnoncourt's dedication to the score is apparent, and all of the soloists are first-rate. The recording, made in Herkulessaal in Munich in October 2005, beautifully captured the performance in very natural sound. A complete text is provided. The performance is too long to be on one disk, so we have two, both at mid-price. A quality issue!

The Danish label DaCapo has already recorded much of the music of Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) and already has issued SACDs of symphonies 2 and 3 (see REVIEW), and 12, 13 and 14 (see REVIEW) all superbly performed by the Danish National Symphony directed by Thomas Dausgaard. Langgaard's music was too visionary for Danish society. The first of his sixteen numbered symphonies was completed in 1911, but could not be performed in Denmark. The composer, who had ties to Berlin, took it to that city where it was premiered in 1913 with the Berlin Philharmonic directed by Max Fiedler. Although this was an enormous success, the war in 1914 made it impossible for more performances. Symphony No. 1 is subtitled "'Mountain Pastorales," and possibly could be considered a Danish "Alpine Symphony." The five movements are "Surf and Glimpses of Sun", "Mountain Flowers," "Legend," "Mountain Ascent," and "Courage". It ends with the already large orchestra (there are eight horns!) supplemented by extra brass: three each of trumpets and trombones plus a tuba, all of which make a mighty sound at the work's conclusion. The performance is perfect, the SACD sound full and rich. Another quality release! If you are interested in music of Laggaard, look into his opera Antikrist in a fine performance by soloists and the Danish NSO conducted again by Dausgaard (see REVIEW).

Another worthy SACD is Channel Classics' of Bach's six motets, BWV 225-230, in glorious performances by the 26-member Netherlands Chamber Choir directed by Peter Dijkstra, with a small continuo group (which is not identified). As usual with this label, the audio picture is spacious placing the listener in the center of the performance. Complete texts are provided.

R.E.B. (June 2008)