R Strauss: Metamorphosen; Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 13; Prelude to Capriccio, Op. 85

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Metamorphosen; Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 13; Prelude to Capriccio, Op. 85
PERFORMER: The Nash Ensemble: Marianne Thorsen, Malin Broman (violin), Lawrence Power, Philip Dukes (viola), Paul Watkins, Pierre Doumenge (cello), Duncan McTier (bass), Ian Brown (piano)
Reducing the string size of Strauss’s Metamorphosen from 23 to the seven of the composer’s short score, as Rudolf Leopold did in the 1990s, might seem to be going light on the tragic force of this great wartime elegy. Not so in the hands of the Nash Ensemble. If anything Strauss’s most private moments of grief have even more eloquence, especially as they attempt to shy away from the monumental waves of emotion that threaten to engulf the memorial’s closing stages. Before that, the Nash resist going full tilt at first in the central fantasia, so that the climax and plunge back to an intensified starting point have maximum impact. Even more revelatory is the anguished development of the otherwise cool, neo-classical Sextet which launches the opera Capriccio. Here the Nash’s urgency tempts one to hear it as another reflection on culture under threat from the ‘criminal rabble’, as Strauss called the Nazis in a diary entry. The recap almost breaks the heart in its restored purity of expression. Between these two masterpieces of the 1940s, we leap back to the 21-year old Strauss’s Piano Quartet – more Brahmsian than Brahms, to paraphrase the Manchester reviewer quoted in Michael Kennedy’s excellent booklet notes. A special welcome here to Ian Brown’s handling of the chameleonic piano part, especially charming in the flashes of pre-Till Eulenspiegelish wit. Truthful recording does full justice to the warmth, poise and integration of these marvellous performances. David Nice