Did you know that the composer of The Merry Widow wrote a gut-wrenching scena for tenor and orchestra – a musical collage filled with reminiscences of the Radetzky March, bugle calls and café waltzes – in which a dying soldier sees his life flash before his eyes? Franz Lehár’s Fieber (Fever) of 1915 is the biggest surprise in this fascinating and beautifully recorded tour of the Austro-German musical twilight.
The album acts as a richly decadent corrective to anyone tempted to take a Darwinian view of music history, demonstrating that the potently chromatic, edge-of-tonality world we associate with Mahler persisted into the 1920s. As Paul Griffiths says in his album notes: “History does not happen all at once but settles slowly.”
Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (1899), with its echoes of Wagner and Richard Strauss, receives a lush, immersive performance here, with a large body of strings. The sense of light and tenderness in the final bars is sublime. But who knew that there was another musical imagining of Richard Dehmel’s poem, this one for mezzo-soprano and tenor, by someone who would become better known as a conductor, Oskar Fried? His Verklärte Nacht (1901) is lush but surprisingly direct, with a beautiful ‘pivot’ as the night is transfigured.
Korngold’s abundantly lyrical Songs of Farewell (1920-21) mark the end of the journey. Like everything else here, the singing and playing are exceptionally fine, and although this album isn’t made for continuous listening (given the music’s consistently high cholesterol count), it is immensely rewarding if taken in small doses.
Composer: Schoenberg, Korngol, Lehár, Fried
Works: Verklärte Nacht, Fever, Songs of Farewell
Performers: Christine Rice ms, Stuart Skelton t, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Label: CHANDOS CHSA5243 (SACD)