Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 (1936) [7:23]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
String Quintet in F major WAB 112 (arrangement for string orchestra by Michael Erxleben) (1878/9) [42:53]
Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin
rec. 25 June, 2015 (Barber); 13 November, 2014; Konzerthaus, Berlin.
CUGATE CLASSICS CGC013-2 SACD [50:26]
This is a real lollipop of a recital – and in no sense do I mean that disparagingly. It is rather short measure but showcases two exquisite compositions for strings presented in phenomenally rich, deep sound. The Barber piece serves as a perfect hors d’œuvre to the main course of a new arrangement of Bruckner’s String Quintet for string orchestra by Michael Erxleben, one of the concertmasters of the Berlin chamber orchestra featured here. I have not previously encountered this music thus arranged, but the Adagio by Fritz Oeser has long been used as a stand-alone concert item for chamber orchestra in at least four recordings I could find, and an arrangement of the complete quintet for string orchestra by Hans Stadlmair, issued on the Bayer label and played by the Württembergischer Kammerorchester Heilbronn conducted by Ruben Gazarian, was very well received by Gramophone. I can also recommend two highly desirable recordings of the quintet in its original form from the Raphael Ensemble, which I reviewed in June 2011, and another I reviewed in October last year as a Recording of the Month by violist James Boyd and the Fitzwilliam Quartet from Linn. There is no reason why the dedicated Brucknerian will not want this masterwork in both the original and arranged versions as they obviously provide rather different, but equally rewarding experiences.
The notes aptly quote a bon mot from the Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer that “Music described is like a narrated lunch” and there is little to say about the execution of both works here beyond the fact that I find it flawless. The Barber is taken rather more briskly than classic accounts by Bernstein with the Los Angeles PO but it suffers from no lack of profundity and rather gains in drama from the added propulsion. I have no reference point for comparison of the arrangement of the Bruckner work beyond my knowledge of the original string quintet recordings but I thoroughly enjoy the textural lusciousness afforded by the increased body of strings which increasingly puts me in mind of later works such as Verklärte Nacht. Tempos, balance between sections and variety of colour seem to me all to be ideal; this is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful discs of its kind to come my way in quite some time.