Metamorphosen [Original Version for string septet edited by Rudolf Leopold]
Piano Quartet in C minor, Op.13
Nash Ensemble [Marianne Thorsen & Malin Broman (violins), Lawrence Power & Philip Dukes (violas), Paul Watkins & Pierre Doumenge (cellos), Duncan McTier (double bass) & Ian Brown (piano)]
Recorded 12-14 April 2006 in Henry Wood Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2007
CD No: HYPERION CDA67574
Duration: 78 minutes
This release charts Richard Strauss’s composing career, or rather leaps from his youthfully exuberant Piano Quartet composed during 1884 (when he became 20) to Metamorphosen composed 60 years later, the latter being a sustained lament for the demise of German Art caused by its destruction during World War II.
It seems that Strauss conceived Metamorphosen for string septet (two each of violins, violas and cellos plus a double bass), albeit possibly as a draft; having completed this version, Strauss began work on the definitive score for ’23 solo strings’. The septet version did not come to light until 1990 when Rudolf Leopold edited it and incorporated aspects of the published score. The septet score has been recorded before, but not as convincingly as here. In this outstanding account, one doesn’t miss the ‘extra’ players for the Nash Ensemble musicians give us a very sensitive and ideally paced account of naturally flowing tensions and passions and with an inevitable sense of climax. Just occasionally, in the headiest passages, the web of sound that 23 solo lines brings is missed (let alone the gloss and heft that a symphony orchestra’s full strings provide, as used by Karajan, for example). But the Nash members are really under the skin of Strauss’s music and bring out desperation and beauty in equal measure.
Step back 60 years to discover a confident, immensely talented composer writing a large-scale Piano Quartet (40 minutes here) that is powerful, full of ideas and expansively laid out. For convenience the first movement could be said to be Brahmsian, and the gossamer scherzo recalls Mendelssohn (with some passages imitating the corresponding movement in Brahms’s Piano Quintet). A delicious trio that is suggestive of an Italian love-song anticipates the very Romantic slow movement, secretive and, maybe, including a quotation – but, what? Surely, it’s from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture? The finale is full of energy and likens to Schumann. This performance, with the wonderful Ian Brown joining Marianne Thorsen, Lawrence Power and Paul Watkins, reveals a work that has so much in it to discover.
Also included is the string sextet Prelude to Strauss’s final opera, “Capriccio”, completed in 1941. Once again, the rendition is beautifully sensitive and intertwined, reminding that Strauss termed his ultimate stage-work a ‘conversation piece’.Maybe the CD’s layout should be chronological (Metamorphosen comes before the Piano Quartet), but that is the only doubt. With recorded sound that puts the listener in the middle of the action without intimidation – how well the piano is balanced with the string trio – and scholarly notes from Michael Kennedy, this is a quite superb issue.