Patrick Stewart

Richard Strauss: Enoch Arden

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The melodrama, a genre in which a spoken text is declaimed over a musical accompaniment, was a popular form in the nineteenth century, but it failed to thrive in the twentieth. While performances of Strauss' 1897 setting of Tennyson's narrative poem "Enoch Arden" remain rare, it has aged well, and performances as fine as this are a testimony to its viability and its continuing ability to move the listener. Tennyson tells an achingly poignant story of three children, the two boys both growing to adulthood in love with the young woman, with delicacy and restraint. Strauss matches the story with a reserved but expressive piano accompaniment that supports and never overwhelms the narrative. Emanuel Ax plays with grace and deep feeling, but the focus falls on Patrick Stewart's brilliant and powerful performance. His subtle and nuanced telling is far more effective than an overtly impassioned one would have been, and the naturalness of his reading is hugely compelling and moving. Ax closes the album with two short piano pieces that Strauss wrote when he was still in his teens; they serve as a moving and cathartic epilogue to the melodrama. This extraordinary performance of Enoch Arden should be of strong interest to anyone intrigued by the mystery of the relationship between music and poetry.

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