Strauss, Korngold

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Korngold,Strauss
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Sextet in D, Op. 10 (arr. Rundel)
PERFORMER: Ensemble Oriol Berlin/Peter Rundel
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 81175 2
Given the plethora of competing versions of Verklärte Nacht, you’d hardly guess Schoenberg was an unpopular composer, and in some quarters still a resented and reviled one. The Concertante Chamber Players, a flexible body of young Juilliard School graduates, comes laden with booklet-note superlatives, and their technique is certainly superb. They present a highly sympathetic performance of the original sextet version, yet in such a crowded field, ultimately an unremarkable one. Fifty years after Schoenberg’s death, the benchmark remains that recorded in his presence by the augmented Hollywood Quartet. If you’re so deaf as to demand modern sonics at all costs the augmented Juilliard Quartet, who presumably taught most of these players, are nearly as good.

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But the CCP’s Strauss is phenomenal. Not so much their silken and warmly affectionate account of the Capriccio Sextet, but Metamorphosen, given here in Strauss’s alternative version for seven strings, discovered a decade ago. An austere and essentialised transfiguration of this tragic masterpiece, shorn of the lushness of the 23-string form we grew up with, if anything it concentrates its expressive substance, revealing more clearly Strauss’s miraculous contrapuntal craft. The CCP performance is white-hot, so intensely felt and so superbly realised technically as to be almost beyond praise: they create their own benchmark in this version.

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The Berlin-based Oriol Ensemble, patently a group of fine musicians, provides little contest here. Peter Rundel opts for the familiar 23-string Metamorphosen, building a richer but blunter sound and drawing a much lower expressive charge: nicely phrased, but curiously uninvolving. (In this version Karajan remains supreme.) Rundel has performed a reverse transformation on Korngold’s echt-Viennese Sextet of 1915, beefing it up for full string orchestra. It seems a rather pointless exercise. The Sextet is fluent, engaging and expertly crafted (what Korngold is not?), but compared to the Strauss and Schoenberg here, too much of it sounds like amiable rambling. Calum MacDonald