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Metamorphosen (Sinfonia of London/John Wilson)

Sinfonia of London/John Wilson (Chandos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

R Strauss: Metamorphosen; Korngold: Symphonic Serenade; Schreker: Intermezzo
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5292 (CD/SACD)   64:22 mins

Context matters: I listened to this Metamorphosen, composed as a memorial to what Richard Strauss described in his diary as ‘irreplaceable monuments of architecture and works of art…destroyed by a criminal soldiery’ (he meant the Nazis, not the Allies), as news was coming in of the massacre in Bucha. So the tears were bound to roll. Objectively, though, this is a deep and powerful interpretation of a great masterpiece. Wilson’s 23 Sinfonia of London strings are some of the best in the world (if only the players were listed); the solos have supreme eloquence, the perfectly-released dynamics, top-to-bottom sonorousness and staggered entries reinforce how Strauss achieves his impact.

The programme, typically for Wilson, is a fascinating one. Schreker’s 1900 Intermezzo is just that, but strains for more shades between the lines, anticipating Korngold’s Symphonic Serenade completed nearly half a century later. Having returned from Hollywood to Europe, Korngold dedicated the score to ‘Luzi, my beloved wife, my dear friend’. It is anything but ‘light music’, least of all in the big Lento religioso, where the melody line takes so many unexpected turns; and the searing anguish Wilson’s players express at its heart shows why you need a great, large string section. The finale seems perfunctory after that, but the first two movements also show that Korngold hadn’t given up on individuality. The acoustics of St Augustine’s Church Kilburn, perfect for the Strauss, sometimes diffuse the focus here. But all of the playing is absolutely first-rate.

David Nice