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Verklärte Nacht

Christine Rice (soprano), et al; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Verklärte Nacht
Fried: Verklärte Nacht*†; Korngold: Songs of Farewell†; Lehár: Fieber†; Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
*Christine Rice (soprano), †Stuart Skelton (tenor); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5243 (CD/SACD)   63:36 mins

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The tortured orchestral landscape glowers. A tenor enters, detonating a controlled explosion on the word ‘Licht’. And expressionism yields to a waltzing nod to the world of operetta before touching on Berlioz. Who would have thought that the composer of The Merry Widow had it in him? But Fieber, Lehár’s ‘tone poem for tenor and large orchestra’, isn’t the only rarity in this skilfully woven tapestry charting a voluptuous cross-section of fin de siècle Viennoiserie. Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht is paired with a near-contemporaneous setting of the Dehmel poem which inspired it by Oskar Fried, a composer-conductor who, in 1921, was the first to record a Mahler symphony. Scored for mezzo, tenor and orchestra, its lush Romanticism falls alluringly on the ear in this seductively authoritative performance, even if Fried never quite interrogates the poem with the tenacity of Schoenberg’s wordless psychodrama.

To finish (picking up the thematic baton from Lehár), there’s Korngold’s Lieder des Abschieds. Composed in the slipstream of Die tote Stadt, the opera’s spirit is revisited in four death-suffused songs – the first a tender lullaby, vividly scored, setting Christina Rossetti. Across the programme Edward Gardner is preternaturally attentive, nailing the volatile blend of schmaltz and suffering that underpins the Lehár; and cloaking the moonbathing opening of the Fried with a velvety sumptuousness that prefigures the ensuing vocal refulgence – though Stuart Skelton, having elsewhere unleashed full Heldentenor heft, sounds momentarily challenged in the highest register. Adventurously conceived, and with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on top form, this is a stimulating disc from first note to last.

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Paul Riley