Schoenberg, Strauss: Verklärte Nacht

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg,Strauss
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Verklärte Nacht
PERFORMER: Brandis Quartet, Walter Küssner (viola), Dietmar Schwalke (cello), Rainer Zepperitz (double bass)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5614
Two late-Romantic masterpieces, separated by nearly half a century; and two original versions, but of very different status. Schoenberg’s tone-poem Transfigured Night was written in 1899 as a string sextet, and has remained at least as well known in that version as in the composer’s later arrangement for string orchestra. Strauss’s elegiac Metamorphoses was drafted as a string septet (with double-bass) in 1945, even while its composer was already working on the final version for 23 strings. Rudolf Leopold’s realisation of the rediscovered short score will obviously be useful in concerts – not least alongside the neo-Rococo Sextet from Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio, also recorded here – but on disc seems little more than a curiosity, when the richly scored final version is so readily available.

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In any case, the recording of the septet Metamorphoses by the Brandis Quartet with Berlin colleagues (the second of this version, following the Vienna String Sextet on EMI) hardly makes the strongest case for it, with its unalluring sound-quality, closely recorded but without compensating clarity in the middle parts. VerklÑrte Nacht fares even worse, the group frequently sounding ill at ease with itself in tuning and balance. Timothy L. Jackson’s notes are skimpy on the poem which inspired the Schoenberg, and the theatrical context of the Capriccio Sextet, but make some important points about Strauss’s controversial relationship with the Nazi rÇgime and the ‘meaning’ of Metamorphosen. Anthony Burton