Music to wallow in?

verklartenachtNo, not Flanders and Swann but rather a well constructed new recording from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.  It contains music by four composers exemplifying that lush territory that lies emotionally, if not always temporally, between Wagner and the Second Vienna School.  The two central works were both inspired by Richard Dehmel’s Verklärte Nacht.  The first is a 1901 setting of the text for mezzo, tenor and orchestra by Oskar Fried.  It’s lushly scored and rather beautiful.  The sound world is not dissimilar to Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder.  Gardner gets a lovely sound from his players and some really gorgeous singing from Christine Rice and Stuart Skelton.  The second Verklärte Nacht is the more familiar Schoenberg piece for string orchestra.  It’s curious how without voices and with only strings it manages to sound almost as lush as the Fried.

The Verklärte Nacht pieces are bookended by two pieces in a similar vein.; both musically and emotionally.  The first, surprisingly perhaps, is by Franz Lehár.  It’s like no other Lehár that I’ve ever heard though it manages to work in both waltz and military march.  It’s a setting of Erwin Weill’s Fieber; a poem about the last hallucinatory minutes of a dying officer cadet.  The original (piano) version was written shortly after the composer’s brother was very badly wounded.  The orchestral version dates from 1916.  It’s lush too but it’s also disturbing.  It’s quite simple in places and overwrought, perhaps unsurprisingly, in others.  It gets a fabulous performance by Stuart Skelton and very large orchestra.

The last piece on the recording is Korngold’s Lieder des Abschieds for tenor and orchestra.  I found the four songs somewhat less interesting than the preceding pieces but the first one; Sterbelied, which is a German translation of Christina Rossetti’s When I am dead, my dearest, has its moments.

This is a Chandos hybrid CD/SACD release so even the regular CD is a 24 bit 96kHz recording.  I was reviewing off a “standard CD quality” (16 bit 44.1kHz) electronic pre-release copy.  I mention this because the recent Chandos releases that I have had a physical copy of have been sonically superb.  The version I listened to is very good indeed but one suspects the physical SACD track in particular will be really good for this type of music.  Full texts, plus lots of other documentation, are in the booklet.

If one has a taste for this type of music and a willingness to explore some fairly obscure repertoire one likely can’t do better than this well constructed, beautifully played and sung and well engineered recording.

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