Metamorphosen - Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5292
Classical - Orchestral
Korngold: Symphonische Serenade
Sinfonia of London
John Wilson (conductor)
Following their critically acclaimed album of English Music for Strings, Sinfonia of London and John Wilson turn to Germany and three outstanding works for string orchestra. Franz Schreker’s Intermezzo, the oldest piece here, was composed in 1900, before Schreker’s rise to fame in the opera houses of Germany and Austria, but shows strong indications of what was to follow. Korngold composed the Symphonische Serenade following his return to Vienna from Hollywood after the Second World War, and shortly before he wrote his Symphony in F sharp. Korngold effortlessly conjures a vivid range of colours and textures from his large forces (32 violins, 12 violas, 12 cellos, and 8 basses) in a work that explores the virtuosity of the players to the full. Composed in 1945, as a reaction to the horrors of the war, and the desecration of German culture, Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings seems to look backwards to the German romantic tradition (a trait even more evident in his Four Last Songs, of 1948). The moving final passage, marked ‘In Memoriam’, leaves the listener to contemplate in silence.
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Review by Graham Williams - March 31, 2022
John Wilson and his Sinfonia of London continue to surprise us with their eclectic programmes designed to exemplify both the conductor’s wide musical interests as well as the fine musicianship and virtuosity of his players. This latest release is the second to focus solely on the strings of the orchestra.
The title of this SACD refers to Richard Strauss’s valedictory ‘Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings’,
arguably the greatest of the instrumental works that he composed in his final years, but one that took some time to establish itself in the aftermath of the 2nd World War. This masterpiece is the 85 year old composer’s response to the destruction of Germany’s artistic heritage laid waste by the madness of war – something that surely resonates with all of us at the present time. The contrapuntal complexities of this astonishing piece are lucidly and spaciously expounded by Wilson and his players with notable expressive power. Thanks to the superbly warm and transparent Chandos multi-channel recording textures remain clear even in the densest passages, and while there are a couple of other fine versions available on SACD this glowing account played with considerable emotional fervour ticks all the right boxes.
Following the profound intensity of the Strauss, we have works by composers whose lives were sadly and irreparably blighted by political climate in 1930s Europe.
The first is Franz Schreker, whose operas were once as highly regarded as those of Strauss until the rise of the National Socialists. He is represented here by a brief lyrical ‘Intermezzo, Op. 8 for String Orchestra’, an early work written in 1900 and later incorporated as the fourth movement of his ‘Romantische Suite’. With its melodic charm it shows little evidence of the composer’s later expressionistic style and is performed here with much eloquence and sensitivity.
The second is Erich Wolfgang Korngold who escaped from Europe to Hollywood in 1938 where he composed his many celebrated film scores. After the war Korngold had hoped to rebuild his reputation in mainstream composition – an ambition that unfortunately was not to be realised. The ‘Symphonic Serenade Op.39 for String Orchestra’ of 1947- 48 was one of a number of late works written to that end. As the name suggests it is a piece more ambitious in scale than the well-known serenades by Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Elgar to name but three. For this work the composer specifies a very large complement of 64 strings that he uses, often in divided groups, with considerable skill and imagination. Korngold wrote the Serenade for the strings of the Vienna Philharmonic who premiered it under Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1950 while it fell to William Steinberg to give the American premiere in Pittsburgh in 1955.
The virtuosity and finesse of the Sinfonia Of London’s players is evident throughout Wilson’s account of this marvellous score; not least in the technically challenging ‘Intermezzo’, played almost entirely pizzicato, and few could fail to be moved by the intensity of the Mahlerian ‘Lento religioso’ in Wilson’s hands. Though there have been a number of recordings on CD of this unaccountably neglected masterpiece this is the first to be available as a multi-channel hybrid SACD and is therefore especially welcome.
In the hands of the Chandos recording engineers the acoustic of the recording venue, the Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, furnishes a wonderfully coherent sound stage; full of detail and with a rounded ambience that enhances all these compelling performances.
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