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'What's more, nobody had set - even in cut form - the whole of Revelation before. It's one of the most difficult and secretive books of the Bible, and I think Schmidt relished the challenge.'

'Schmidt felt himself, both musically and emotionally, to be at the end of an era. It's as if he wanted to say, here is a culmination, a summation of the entire Austrian catholic choral tradition, through Haydn, Schubert and Bruckner to the 20th century.' In other words, like Strauss's Four Last Songs and Schmidt's own tragic Fourth Symphony, Das Buch is a kind of Abschied, a farewell.

'Schmidt knew Handel's music well : the fugal writing is massive, notably in the earthquake, fire and flood which explode and engulf the world at the end of Part I. And there's a terrifying moment at the breaking of the 4th Seal (the emergence of the pale rider) - it sounds almost atonal, but isn't - where two lone survivors of war encounter each other : Schmidt knows exactly how create instrumental effects and colouring. The effect is uncannily scary and spooky - you can almost hear the bones rattling.'

St John himself is cast as a Heldentenor. Why? 'Well, St John was a very old man when he wrote Revelation, and Schmidt chose to present him as a more youthful figure,' Welser-Möst explains. But it's also to do with balance - he needed something more than a lyric tenor, a singer who could hold his own against a large orchestra where necessary. The problem is that some Heldentenors are fine at projecting Tristan or Tannhäuser, but aren't natural narrators. Stig Andersen, who sings the Evangelist on Sunday, has both these qualities.

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Copyright © 17 August 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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