Prom 49: Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri

Das Paradies und die Peri, Op.50 – Oratorio in three parts based on the poem ‘Paradise and the Peri’ from Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh [sung in German with English surtitles]

Peri – Lucy Crowe
Young Girl – Jeanine De Bique
Angel – Magdalena Kožená
Narrator – Andrew Staples
Young Man – Linard Vrielink
Gazna / Man – Florian Boesch

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 22 August, 2023
Venue: Royal Albert Hall

This was the first complete outing for Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri (1843) at the Proms (previously only one aria from it was performed in 1909) but Sir Simon Rattle has been an advocate of the work before on more than one occasion, for example in a performance at the Barbican in 2015, also with the London Symphony Orchestra (and preserved on disc). Their empathy with the music was well displayed here, in a generally mellow, translucent reading which expertly caught the score’s overall mood, hovering between sorrow and consolation that often looks ahead to Brahms’s A German Requiem. Similar too is the superficially sacred theme of the work, but which really disavows dry dogma in this setting of a text by the nineteenth-century poet Thomas Moore, in which the Peri, or fallen angel of the title, seeks readmittance to paradise by seeking the gift that is most dear to heaven. The work is perhaps best described as a secular oratorio; Schumann had first considered adapting the poem as an opera, and not insignificantly Wagner (an admirer of the finished result) had also toyed with setting it.

Alongside the strings’ tendency to avoid vibrato, Rattle also secured a generally serene, integrated timbre from the brass and woodwind, despite a few insecure notes from horns at one or two points. Overall the sonority was a long way from the dense, clogged textures for which Schumann’s Symphonies, at least, are often (unfairly) criticised. The London Symphony Chorus was less steady and songful. Despite clear diction, some louder acclamations were bellowed by tenors and the ladies were a touch shrill even if, in both cases, such outbursts evidently issued from wholehearted enthusiasm for the music. Part Three opened with more lift and charm from the female voices. But essentially the choir’s contribution had something of the foursquare blitheness of a choral society about it, rather than a more nuanced, dramatic impetus engaging with the character of the drama.

Lucy Crowe developed noticeably over the course of the performance in the central role of the Peri, rather reticent at the beginning and submerged by the orchestra. But she brought forth more lyrical beauty in Part Two, and then a richer vein of nobility and insight in the Third, soaring over the orchestra triumphantly on gaining entry to paradise once she had brought the tear of a repentant convict. Andrew Staples initially delivered the narration with gradations of a Lied-like intimacy, but came to ring out more emphatically subsequently, if with a raw edge in his voice.

Magdalena Kožená gave a burnished, sophisticated account of the Angel – not mere ethereal, innocent ease – while Jeanine De Bique was an excitable Young Girl (whose dying sighs of love are rejected by paradise), her voice steely and bright, though the drama more imposed upon the music than developed from within. Her lover, Linard Vrielink was more forbearingly tender, following his strenuous rendition with urgent rolled ‘r’s as the warrior whose blood, shed in the cause of valour and liberty, had also not been accepted. Florian Boesch sounded a more solemn, stentorian note, both as his opponent, Gazna, and on appearances as other, anonymous characters.

A few shortcomings aside, the performance was rightly received with warm applause, the work’s themes of sin and redemption delivered with a light but sincere touch, and serving as a welcome revelation of this little-known, underrated composition by Schumann. If only his single, genuine opera could also now be programmed somewhere, in an equally eloquent airing.

1 thought on “Prom 49: Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri”

  1. ‘Overall the sonority was a long way from the dense, clogged textures for which Schumann’s Symphonies, at least, are often (unfairly) criticised.’ This old-fashioned trope is still wheeled out, yes it is untrue, so why mention it in the first place? The orchestration is actually extremely distinctive and Schumann creates some fascinating effects, which aren’t mentioned, which is a pity.

    With regard to the ‘ladies’ of the LSO chorus. It is 2023 and surely the days are long gone when women are referred to in such a way?

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