Hawley/Strauss

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Hawley/Strauss
LABELS: Discover
WORKS: I Hear No Sound: Romantic Melodrama
PERFORMER: Pamela Hunter (reciter)Koen Kessels (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DICD 920245
Pamela Hunter’s memorable performances of Façade won her critical acclaim. Here she opens the door to that extraordinary, neglected genre, the spoken ‘melodrama’: piano-accompanied declamation of ghoulish ballads of a kind adored by turn-of-the-century Wigmore Hall audiences.

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Stanley Hawley (1867-1916) was one of melodrama’s most popular exponents – Poe, Uhland and Christina Rossetti are amongst the wonderful (and wonderfully awful) poets included. These are sparkling, accomplished narrations, though for my taste Hunter’s performances are just a bit too sing-songy, with a whiff of Edith Sitwell and German cabaret, plus the odd misplaced emphasis. Nonetheless, a ground-breaking foray into this gloriously passé genre.

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Tennyson’s The Sisters is one of that disc’s eerie gems, set beside two fairly forgettable five-minute Richard Strauss melodramas (one based on Salome). Strauss is even more elusive on the LITmus disc (only the wedding scene acquires a Rosenkavalier-like gleam: the tone otherwise stays restrainedly Schumannesque). But Tennyson’s distraught small epic about a shipwrecked sailor who finds that his wife has left him for another is so tear-jerking, and Nicholas Garrett handles the declamation so intelligently and uncloyingly that – forget the puny snippets of Strauss – it’s a verbal treasure. This courageously sustained, passionate spoken yarn will charm any ‘Maud’ fans and poetic sentimentalists among you to the core. Roderic Dunnett