House music: classical critics' watching and listening picks

This was a week with some indulgently heady stuff, beginning with Szymanowski’s opera Król Roger and followed by Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. Each deals with kings in crisis, soul-searching in their own way, in highly charged but often ecstatically beautiful music.

In the radio broadcast of Royal Opera House’s 2014 production, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień was a fine King Roger in a signature role for him. This king is tipped into crisis by his encounter with a crazed Dionysian figure who arrives in the guise of a shepherd and to whose seductive, hedonistic sway Roger loses his queen, Roxana. As Roger, in isolation, is gradually able to see the light and discover the potency of self-determination, the listener is drawn deeper and deeper into Szymanowski’s radiantly luxuriant score. I hadn’t even planned to listen, but found I couldn’t turn it off.

Giving Schoenberg’s massive cantata the operatic treatment was a daring first for Dutch National Opera, the inspired idea of conductor Marc Albrecht, strikingly realised by director Pierre Audi. The medieval legend of King Waldemar, his love for mistress Tove and the cruelty of his murderous queen is told in a sequence of poems by Jens Peter Jacobsen: the setting of Gurre castle is atmospheric, some of the characterisation challenging, yet far from illogical. Jacobsen was a botanist who translated Darwin’s On the Origin of Species into Danish, so nature’s redemptive power is implicit in the words, as is the passion. If the mere mention of Schoenberg is a frightener, think again. This is luscious late romanticism, albeit with glimpses of the composer’s future path.

Embedded in the words of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde – translated from ancient Chinese poems – is the consoling certainty that, while man is mortal, the Earth and its song live on for ever. Today as man and climate change undermine that certainty, the music’s expressive power carries a further poignant force. In the ROH’s second livestreamed concert on 20 June (£4.99 to watch on demand), conducted by Antonio Pappano, the song-symphony was performed in the arrangement for chamber orchestra conceived in detail by Schoenberg and later completed by Rainer Riehn. The obvious version to use in the context of distancing, it highlighted the intimate relationship of the solo voices – tenor David Butt Philip and mezzo Sarah Connolly – with the instrumental soloists, all emerging with clarity and eloquently communicated. Connolly in particular sang from the heart.

Compare and contrast this with Mahler’s original mega-score in Simon Rattle’s performance with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from Aldeburgh in 2011, which can be heard on Radio 3 on Tuesday evening (and then on BBC Sounds for 30 days). For those wistful about the absence of this year’s Aldeburgh festival, these repeats are timely, with Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and an excellent cast marking the summer solstice. But his Peter Grimes staged out in the open on the North Sea shoreline will surely go down as one of the festival’s all-time memorable events. Seeing again the televised recording, with Alan Oke as Grimes, one could smell the salt tang, feel the rising wind and shiver.

Under huge pressure to adapt to the present norm, podcasts are one way for organisations to sustain a profile. Welsh National Opera has launched a series – in English and in Welsh – and Longborough festival opera likewise. Theirs opens with Paul Carey Jones who would have been the much-anticipated Wotan in Die Walküre talking with conductor Anthony Negus; in another, LFO artistic director Polly Graham and David Pountney discuss comedy in Wagner. “What larks, Poll, what larks!”

But it’s the Guildhall School of Music and Drama who hold all the aces in creating digital performances of their end-of-year opera double-bill. Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is paired with La bella dormente nel bosco in a rare outing for Respighi’s witty take on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. It’s the virtual thing in both senses and promises to be both inventive and evocative.

My pick for the week ahead

From Thursday 25 June, the Penarth Chamber Music festival weekend is being livestreamed, with repertoire gems by prime exponents of the genre, including David Adams, Alice Neary, Lesley Hatfield and Robert Plane.