Bruch: Odysseus

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LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Odysseus
PERFORMER: Jeffrey Kneebone (baritone), Nancy Maultsby (mezzo-sop); Budapest Radio Choir, NDR PO & Choir/Leon Botstein
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6557-2
Bruch’s life-time fame rested mainly on choral works, among them Odysseus written in 1871. These were turbulent days of German unification to which the composer proudly ascribed and this work strongly emphasises love for the homeland. His careful selection from the saga leaves much to the listener’s imagination, while the chorus alternates as participants and narrators. The conventional structures of oratorio disappear with innovative choral recitatives and a cohesive shape emerges from the blurring of formal boundaries. Odysseus was hugely popular (Brahms a noted fan) and it brought Bruch to Liverpool for three years. It dropped from the repertoire this century (I revived it in 1988) but it deserves far better, for Odysseus abounds in sumptuous melody, strikingly beautiful sections and powerfully dramatic moments. Botstein is reluctant to linger in places, but, after some dubious wind tuning, the NDR Philharmonic provides powerful and dramatic colours, the excellent chorus gives an involved performance. Though the minor roles are not quite up to standard, Maultsby warms to Penelope in her second aria, Nylund sparkles as Nausikaa and Kneebone is a commandingly impressive Heldenbaritone in the exacting title role. At last Bruch’s forgotten oratorio is available in this most welcome live-recording. Christopher Fifield