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R Strauss: Enoch Arden; The Castle by the Sea

Christopher Kent (narrator), Gamal Khamis (piano) (SOMM Recordings)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

R Strauss
Enoch Arden; The Castle by the Sea
Christopher Kent (narrator), Gamal Khamis (piano)
SOMM SOMMCD 0651   69:45 mins

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Who knows Tennyson’s epic poem, Enoch Arden, let alone the melodrama version for which Strauss provided intermittent music? Very little is melodramatic in the usual sense; the genre, popular in the 19th century, simply indicates a spoken text hand in glove with music – not quite as strictly notated as Schoenbergian sprechstimme, but needing a musical narrator able to go with the piano’s flow. Actor Christopher Kent offers ideal fine-tuning to Gamal Khamis’s playing in the climax of Enoch Arden – a dramatic lament in which the protagonist, shipwrecked on a sea journey to provide for his family and believed dead, determines not to trouble his remarried wife’s peace of mind.

The opening seems to depict Tennyson’s ‘breaker-beaten coast’ in the left-hand surge, while above we hear a melody close to Schubert’s ‘Lullaby’ for a dead child – not inappropriate for part of the tale, and subsequently reworked for a nymphs’ trio in Ariadne auf Naxos. After this, Strauss’s writing is gentler. Childhood friends Enoch, Philip and Annie have their own themes, and the decency with which each of them behaves promotes a warm intimacy complete with the harmonic sideslips of which Strauss was a master by 1899, the year in which he offered this work for dramatic recitation by Munich Court Opera intendant and actor Ernst von Possart. It’s a gift to hear the poem in its original language.

The short bonus is a significant coup – the first recording of music for Uhland’s The Castle by the Sea, more sustained in its dialogue between the highly-strung questioner and his matter-of-fact respondent.

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David Nice