Schoenberg; R Strauss

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg; R Strauss
LABELS: Ambroisie
ALBUM TITLE: Schoenberg , R Strauss
WORKS: Verklärte Nacht; Metamorphosen
PERFORMER: Les Dissonances

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CATALOGUE NO: AM 110
Although this is a predictable enough coupling, the performances are far removed from the routine. First of all, there’s a searingly intense account of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht performed in its original incarnation as a string sextet, an interpretation that captures all the pent-up emotions of the first section yet manages to sustain the tension through the calmer waters of the work’s later stages. A brilliant recording allows one to hear each distinctive musical line even when the texture is very full blooded. In short it’s an outstanding performance, though in the last resort the augmented Leipzig Quartet on MDG is even more atmospheric, encapsulating a greater sense of world weariness in the opening and projecting wider fluctuations in tempo and range of dynamics elsewhere.

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Given the small forces involved in the Schoenberg, I was half expecting Les Dissonances to perform the septet arrangement of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen. Rather daringly they in fact give us the composer’s authorised version for 23 solo strings, but dispense with a conductor. Under normal circumstances, this strategy might seem foolhardy since a work of this complexity surely requires a Karajan or Kempe to negotiate the ebb and flow of the musical argument. But Les Dissonances, led by violinist David Grimal, is clearly an extraordinary ensemble, managing to secure absolute unanimity in phrasing and presenting a totally convincing interpretation that more than matches these great conductors in terms of musical sensitivity and emotional power. Erik Levi