Richard Strauss composed his final opera, Capriccio, between
1939 and 1942. It was a time of great turmoil, and one might wonder
why Strauss chose to compose a work that was a commentary on aesthetics
at a time of such crisis and danger. Was he wallowing in escapism?
Perhaps a more correct conclusion might be that he was attempting
at all costs to preserve the world that he had known for his entire
life; to hold fast to the beauty and grace that was being destroyed
all around him.
sextet performed here is unusual in that it is a chamber work
intended to be a part of an opera. It is indeed theatrical in
a sense, and its inclusion in the drama well explains its brevity.
Nonetheless, it is a work of great beauty and works well standing
on its own merits. Both ensembles represented here come with
fine reputations and many accomplishments to their credit, and
they do not disappoint. This is warm, lush playing with a clear
sense of form and structure and tremendous rhythmic integrity.
I will however, continue to preach against the sniffing and
snorting in which so many string players indulge. It is clearly
audible in this recording, and I find it maddeningly annoying.
Piano Sonata is perhaps the most interesting work here in this
transcription. His op. 1, Berg composed this sonata at the end
of his studies with Schönberg, and considered it to be his first
mature effort. It is full of remarkable counterpoint. Harmonically,
it is a harbinger of Berg’s atonal works, but there are still
interesting and striking sonorities to be heard. The separation
of the voices enabled by this string arrangement illustrates just
how thorough Berg’s knowledge of counterpoint was. Beautifully
played, this performance was a revelation, and made me instantly
run to the shelf to hear the original piano version again.
Verklärte Nacht is one of his two great contributions
to the romantic literature (along with Gurrelieder).
Based on Richard Dehmel’s poem about a couple remaining together
in spite of the woman being pregnant with another man’s child,
this is a work of deep emotion. The composer does not attempt
to give a complete musical depiction of each line of the poem,
but rather sets up an aural backdrop to the story. Again, this
is a very strong performance, full of the sweep and grandeur
one would expect from such hyper-Mahlerian music.
all this is an extremely satisfying disc and is worth its price
just for the Berg. Played to perfection, I can even overlook
the occasional breath snort and find this to be a most enjoyable