Enoch Arden

Strauss • Schumann
Enoch Arden, Songs of Dawn
Simon Tedeschi p, John Bell speaker
ABC Classics 481558

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote his melodramatic narrative poem Enoch Arden during his tenure as England’s Poet Laureate. It’s a Homeric tale about the driven seaman Enoch – a devoted husband to Annie and their children – who spends 10 years shipwrecked on an island before being rescued, only to find that Annie, finally convinced by a vision that he is dead, has married his prosperous childhood friend Philip. We see the situation from all three perspectives and Richard Strauss’s piano interludes, immaculately performed here by Simon Tedeschi, knit the action together superbly.

As Tedeschi says in the liner notes it is a poem that “goes for the jugular” and Strauss manages some evocative and at times beautiful writing to help bring the tragic tale to life. It opens with a Chopinesque flurry of bass arpeggios – a little reminiscent of the Revolutionary étude – to set the dramatic action on its course. We get the playful innocence of the three characters as children, some pastoral episodes and the joyful wedding. But there’s pathos too and a crashing climax when, through a window, Enoch sees Annie and Philip happily en famille.

John Bell, our greatest interpreter of Shakespeare, is the perfect narrator for this multi-layered hour-long tale. It was recorded by Glenn Gould and Claude Rains in 1961, and DW Griffith made a silent movie based on it, but I doubt whether there has been a better pairing than Bell and Tedeschi.

Tedeschi’s performance of Schumann’s five Songs of Dawn, Op. 133 is the perfect companion on this finely produced album. Seldom performed, they were written shortly before the composer was committed to an asylum and are full of conflicting emotions. They end, as Tedeschi says, in a hymn-like movement like a “winding down of the spirit” much like Beethoven’s Op. 111 Piano Sonata.