Two superb accounts of Gurre-Lieder in a year is an embarrassment of riches compared to a time when we were grateful for two a decade. Markus Stenz’s Cologne performance on Hyperion was a forensic investigation for traces of modernist DNA, wild-eyed expressionism to the fore and a thrilling assault on the senses. This account is a fitting counterpart; a sweeping search to detect the background radiation of 19th-century Romanticism, the spreading wave of impressionist tonalities and symbolist ambiguities.

In a sprawling work that can seem episodic, Gardner’s restraint and clarity pays dividends with a sense of logical growth and cohesiveness. His astute ear for transparency, precise blending of timbres and crisp rhythmic pointing along with the Bergen players’ limpid sound enhanced by the wonderfully open recording allows you to peer deep into the canvas and discover delightful revelations; I’ve never heard the Vorspiel sound so Debussyian nor heard such precisely lit details in the Wagnerian forest. Gardner’s time at the ENO is evident in the dramatic shaping. Stuart Skelton’s Waldemar is superb and a triumph. The very top of the voice might not be as open and free as Hyperion’s Jovanovitch but he compensates with such firm baritonal warmth, subtle colouring and vivid projection of text that Skelton’s could well be the finest account in terms of storytelling.

Alwyn Mellor’s Tove is more heroic than usual but a warmly feminine soulmate. The Bauer and Klaus-Narr are fine but Anna Larsson is a disappointingly grey Wood-Dove; a fine singer sounding out of sorts. Alas, the great Thomas Allen sounds very worn and maybe should have used more Sprech and less Stimme. Despite those reservations Gardner’s concept sweeps all before it; a slow burn that gains such intensity that the final chorus is a satisfying blaze of light. The sound quality is glorious – miraculously so considering the constraints of live recording. A higher than usual volume setting is required (a trait of SACDs) but the sound expands wonderfully and never becomes overbearing.

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