Works by Berg, Korngold, Bruckner, Bridge, Lekeu, Wagner and R Strauss (arr. string orchestra)
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson
Channel Classics CCS 36620 76:19 mins
It’s something of a gamble to build an entire release around a programme showcasing a sequence of intense rather slow late-Romantic works. Yet the danger of emotional overkill is triumphantly surmounted here not only by Candida Thompson and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta’s imaginative playing, but also by the superb sound quality and the judiciously chosen order in which the seven pieces are presented.
The disc takes its title from the slow movement of Korngold’s relatively unknown Symphonic Serenade of 1948, a heart-rending farewell to the old Europe that the composer had left behind before it had been ravaged as a result of the Second World War. It’s performed here with such expressive power that I hope it’s not too long before the Amsterdam Sinfonietta commit the entire work to disc.
There are other unexpected novelties which I found equally compelling, in particular the hauntingly performed Lament for string orchestra by Frank Bridge, dedicated in memory of a nine-year-old girl who tragically lost her life when a British ocean liner was sunk by a German submarine during the First World War, and the passionate and strongly Wagnerian Adagio for string orchestra by the Belgian, Guillaume Lekeu.
Purists may be less convinced by some of arrangements for string orchestra. Despite a deeply committed performance, I can’t quite accept strings as an adequate substitute for those quintessential wind chords at the opening of the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Far more convincing is a highly effective transcription of Alban Berg’s early Piano Sonata which would make an ideal companion piece to Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.