David Ripley / Chad Bowles

Richard Strauss: Enoch Arden, Opus 38

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One would probably not associate Richard Strauss with English poetry given that his lieder are based on poems by famous German writers. However, Strauss aficionados might be very surprised to discover "Enoch Arden," Tennyson's epic poem set to music in a form called melodrama. Melodrama is a musical form where spoken text either alternates with or is accompanied by instrumental music. The 1864 poem was set to music by Strauss in 1897, preceding many of his well-known tone poems. "Enoch Arden" is the story of three childhood friends whose lives alter dramatically as adults. Enoch has married Annie, but he leaves her and their children to go off to sea. Over many years, their friend Philip attends to Annie and her family, eventually marrying her much later. Enoch returns to find out what has happened, but rather than confronting them, he hides away, dying. Bass baritone David Ripley's voice is clean, majestic, and as one would expect, very appropriately theatrical in this unusual work. Pianist Chad R. Bowles accompanies him (though with a minimum of music, as Strauss chose not to score the work very fully) with perfect Straussian emotion full of sensitivity, delicacy, and passion. The work begins with the piano in an almost Brahms-like introduction. Ripley sets the stage by telling us what happened, and then proceeds to narrate the poem. It feels almost like a bedtime story for grown-ups, a universal tale of a woman's longing for her lover to return, and when he doesn't, making do with another love. Strauss makes use of five leitmotifs for particular characters and situations. It is not a through-composed work, rather some of the sections begin with music as an introduction to the spoken text, whereas the most emotional moments are fully underscored or represented by music, such as his stay on the island where he was shipwrecked or when he is dying. One almost yearns for more music, and wonders why Strauss chose to score a poem with so little. It tempts and teases, as it is so beautiful and expressive. Indeed, it is an odd choice of a poem, and perhaps Strauss made it too long and drawn out. Ripley's narration could use more pauses and subtle variety, though his voice is wonderful to listen to, and he certainly speaks in the voice of the characters. This is a most interesting work that Strauss lovers would enjoy listening to, performed by two fine artists.

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