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Eduard BRENDLER (1800-31)
Ryno, or The Knight Errant (1834, ed. Anders Wiklund) [114.26]
Ryno – Anders Lunström (tenor); Agnes – Ann-Christian Göransson (soprano); Arnold – David Aler (baritone); Borvid – Jonas Landström (baritone); Thure – Rune Zetterstöm (bass); Birger – Åke Zetterström (baritone); Snap – Carl-Gustaf Holmgran (baritone); Jösse – Charlie T. Borg (baritone)
Members of the Choir of Stora Theatren Gothenburg
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Anders Wiklund
rec. Swedish Radio Studio P2, Gothenburg, 27-29 April 1992 and 11-12 January 1993
STERLING CDO 1031/2-2 [61.53 + 52.33]

Now here is a real curiosity. Ryno would seem to fall firmly into the category of an archetypical ‘early romantic opera’ like its near-contemporaries such as Weber’s Euryanthe and Schubert’s Fierrabras, but it has a number of unique features which command attention. In the first place it is one of the very few works written by Eduard Brendler, who died at the early age of thirty-one before he could realise his potential as a composer but whom it seems could have been very interesting indeed. In the second place the score as presented here was cobbled together by a positive plethora of composers, since the dilatory Brendler left the score incomplete at his death. These editors were headed up by Crown Prince Oscar of Sweden (disguising his identity under the soubriquet “a music-lover”) with assistance from his teacher Adolf Fredrik Lindblad and orchestrations by the conductor Johan Fredrik Berwald (not to be confused with his contemporary the composer Franz Berwald), and then with ballet music in the French style by Eduard du Puy inserted from a different work altogether. Finally it appears to have been one of the first operas composed in Swedish, and indeed the only one to establish itself on the stage until some further forty years had elapsed. Although it was a considerable success on its initial appearance it disappeared altogether into obscurity after some four years, and this recording – which is described in a typed insert as a research project – was apparently the first performance in modern times.

The spoken dialogue by Bernhard von Beskow appears to have been extensive – the work is described as “a play with music” rather than an opera – but with the exception of a couple of lines declaimed over music it is entirely omitted here. Otherwise the recording is very comprehensive, including not only all the music from the original production but also a 33-bar fragment of recitative for Ryno that was omitted from the first performances and has also recently come to light (CD 1, track 8). The booklet contains an extensive essay by the conductor and editor Anders Wiklund and a synopsis which explains the complicated plot, given in Swedish as well as English, German and French translations; we also have the complete sung text in Swedish with a parallel English translation. Very good.

I described the music of Brendler as potentially “very interesting”, and indeed it is. The composer was born in Germany but moved at the age of one to Sweden with his father, who was a flautist with the Court Orchestra in Stockholm. Although the young Brendler made some reputation as an amateur flautist in his own right, he did not take up composition until he was twenty-seven (four years before his death), and Ryno even in its incomplete state was his only substantial work. His style was clearly influenced by Weber’s Freischütz, and indeed the very opening of the overture with its arresting trombones demonstrates the eager manner in which he seized the notions of romantic opera influenced by the sounds of nature. A strong impression is made also by the often offbeat rhythms of the dancing choruses, as well as the song for Botvid (CD 1, track 3) which has a plaintive folk-song air which may accord somewhat incongruously with its macabre story of a master murdered by his greedy servant but gains dramatic relevance from the fact that (as the booklet informs us) it reduces a conscience-stricken count Arnold to tears. (There is little point in retailing the story of the opera in any detail; suffice it to say that it concerns the proposed marriage of the count to his beloved Agnes, rumours concerning his murder of his own father revealed to the heroine by the ‘knight errant’ Ryno, the return of his vengeance-seeking father who impersonates his own ghost for some reason, and the eventual union of Ryno and Agnes.)

The music does not rise to the heights of either Weber or Schubert – the storm which breaks and interrupts the betrothal of Arnold and Agnes is conventional rather than the horrific terrors described by the chorus – but it is a considerable cut above (for example) the operas of Spohr, which Wiklund in his booklet note describes as another influence on the music of the young Brendler. It might have been more impressive still if Brendler had lived to complete the score, but as it is the passages left unfinished included most of the more dramatic scenes which were left to the mercies of Crown Prince Oscar and his well-meaning collaborators. Wiklund’s booklet note cites the influences on the Crown Prince’s music as Beethoven and especially Rossini’s opera serie, but in fact the imitation of Weber in Agnes’s aria at the beginning of Act Two (CD 1, track 10) is decidedly too close for comfort. It is therefore doubly unfortunate that the contents of the second CD consist almost entirely of Prince Oscar’s completion rather than the work of Brendler, which is confined to a single seven-minute coloratura aria for the tenor (CD 2, track 4). Nor can it be contended that the ballet music by Eduard du Puy, pleasant but totally irrelevant to the drama, adds anything of value to the mix. In an era that has found space on the fringes of the repertory for an opera like Schubert’s Fierrabras, the claims for a revival of Ryno might seem to be a possibility; but in the event I would suspect that this complete recording would suffice for most listeners, especially in a performance and production as excellent as this.

And excellent indeed it is. All the singers sound well inside their parts, and in the title role Anders Lundström – who has by far the greater part of Brendler’s most characteristic music to sing – is particularly impressive despite a couple of moments of fragile tuning during his aforementioned and fiendishly difficult ‘dungeon aria’ with solo violin (with its concerto-like figurations neatly handled by Per Enoksson). Jonas Landström is also nicely poised in his gruesome little song; and if Ann-Christine Göransson and David Aler make less of an impact, the blame for that can be fairly laid at the door of the more conventional material they are given to work with. The chorus are thoroughly well rehearsed and bring plenty of impact to their numbers, and the Gothenburg orchestra of the early 1990s were of course already making an international reputation which they fully justify here. The labours of Anders Wiklund both as conductor and as editor of the material are totally convincing even when doubts arise about the abilities of the original music of “a music-lover”. One can only lament the fact that Brendler’s career was cut so cruelly short, since the evidence here suggests that as a dramatic composer he could well have surpassed Schumann and challenged the early Wagner.

The Second Act is split across the two CDs (it could have fitted onto the first), but in a work where dramatic continuity is not a major issue this is not a problem. The cover illustration, of a watercolour based on the original stage sketch for the set for Act One, is entirely appropriate and sets the seal on an issue of immense documentary value. Those who enjoy early romantic opera – and they are many – should make every effort to hear this set.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

 

 




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