Richard STRAUSS (1874-1949) Enoch Arden, Op.38 [72.07]
Henry Goodman (narrator), Lucy Parham (piano)
rec. King’s Place, London, 17 May 2014 DEUX-ELLES DXL1158 [72.07]
The spoken melodrama with piano accompaniment was popular in musically inclined households during the nineteenth century. There are many examples by composers such as Schumann, Liszt, Grieg and Sibelius among others. It fell into neglect after the First World War as the gramophone began to usurp the place of the piano in the home. Not that the popularity of the marriage of words and music has waned. It can be witnessed in the work of many film composers to this day, with their precise attempts to mirror the on-screen dialogue with subtle harmonic and colouristic underpinnings from a studio orchestra. Strauss clearly had a strong affection for the medium; even in the massive symbolic opera Die Frau ohne Schatten he allocates the climactic confrontation between the Empress and her unseen father entirely to the spoken word, which is frequently abnegated by conductors and producers who cut this to a bare minimum. This only testifies to their lack of understanding of the composer’s intentions at this juncture.
Mind you, one suspects that Strauss’s substantial Enoch Arden (after a German translation of Tennyson’s poem) would have defeated all but the hardiest of domestic or amateur performers. The piano part has an almost concerto-like complexity, and the marriage of words and music has to be precisely calculated to bring out the many dramatic and indeed operatic effects. There remains a very substantial amount of purely spoken verse, where the narration is carried forward without any musical accompaniment. When delivered in German this can make for a rather wearisome listening experience. The only currently available alternative recording to the one under consideration here is given in Tennyson’s original English, with the late Canadian tenor Jon Vickers delivering the spoken lines. Henry Goodman here brings a more naturally British inflection to the poetry, and although he transfers the action from Tennyson’s indicated Scotland to the north of England – with subtle hints at regional accents for the characters in the plot – this is fine. Enoch Arden hardly sounds like a Scottish name in any event.
It is clear that Strauss fully expected his melodrama to be delivered in the language of the audience. Although the original performances, with the composer himself at the piano, were toured to audiences in Germany, the published score gives also full cues for the speaker to employ Tennyson’s original English. This causes some problems for performers, however. The German dialogue is very carefully annotated to ensure that certain key words coincide with precise passages in the piano. Strauss has attempted to ensure that the same correspondences are observed when the text is given in English. This doesn’t always work well, because the important words often fall in different places in English and German; the translation by Adolf Strodtmann is freely metrical rather than literal. To observe Strauss’s exact demands would lead to some unnatural pauses in the narrator’s delivery. Goodman and Lucy Parham have clearly given careful consideration to this. At times, as in the phrase “when you shall see her” during Enoch’s final deathbed confession, the exactly indicated match of the words to individual notes on the piano is precisely observed. At others, a greater degree of freedom is taken which nevertheless matches well with the piano accompaniment. The results are never jarring, and the overall effect would surely have rejoiced the composer’s heart. Strauss was always willing to make adjustments to his scores for performances in other languages, even recasting substantial passages of the vocal lines in Salome to allow for presentations to be given in Oscar Wilde’s original French text.
The results of this careful consideration are to reveal Enoch Arden as a real masterpiece of Strauss’s maturity which should receive attention from all who love the work of the composer. Those who want to hear it in Strauss’s original German setting are ill served at present. There have been versions in German available in the past, but none seem to be currently available. In a version at one time available on the Arts label the spoken text is heavily cut, shaving nearly twenty minutes off the performance here. In any event to hear a real actor in the shape of Henry Goodman — who at the same time is also alive to the musical implications of the score — produces a thoroughly dramatic effect. There are no texts provided, but the poems of Tennyson are hardly difficult to obtain, and in any case every word is crystal clear. It is a sign of the care and affection with which the performers have approached the work that a plethora of misprints in the English text as published by Forberg, some of which make nonsense of Tennyson’s original, have been silently amended.
My only reservations regarding this release relate to the nature of the recorded sound, with both the spoken voice and piano very close to the microphone. It's quite lacking in any sort of hall resonance and we should bear in mind that Strauss’s original performances were given in that sort of acoustic. This can quite legitimately be justified as reflecting the atmosphere of a domestic performance in the home, for which, after all, many melodramas were deliberately contrived. Lucky indeed would be the home that could command the services of two such artists in their midst. Paul Corfield Godfrey