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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Verklärte Nacht Op.4 (1899, orch. Pople) [30:07]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Metamorphosen AV 142 (1944-45) [24:46]
London Festival Orchestra/Ross Pople
rec. 1990, Watford Town Hall, UK

I hope readers won’t think it absurd of me to review a bargain recording which has been around for nearly thirty years but I was delighted to discover – albeit very belatedly - two of my favourite works in first-rate sound in these astonishingly invigorating, life-affirming performances and I would like to alert like-minded listeners to their existence. These are seminal works, beloved of devotees of late Romantic music, and they have not previously been reviewed on this website.

Pople does not produce the lush, velvety sound of Karajan – he has leaner, clearer orchestral textures, as he does not augment the strings – but he brings the same passion and intensity to his conducting which sweeps the listener away on surging waves of melody.

Pople has made his own arrangement of Verklärte Nacht based on Schoenberg’s own arrangement of the sextet for orchestral strings. My untrained ear cannot hear the difference between his and other recordings but I can hear that it is wonderfully played, with beautiful phrasing and impeccable intonation. Pole takes a few minutes longer than some but that accommodates the unabashed indulgence of his interpretation if this most Romantic of works which nonetheless starts to open the door a crack on 20C lyric Expressionism. I defy anyone who loves music of this genre not to respond to the searing, stringendo passage starting around 6:40 and the subsequent lyrical outpouring at 7:00. Everything is perfectly gauged to enhance the poignant narrative of Dehmel’s poem and at no point does it drag, despite the comparatively leisurely timing. All I can say is that I do not think I have ever heard it so gorgeously and feelingly played.

Metamorphosen is far more elegiac than the Schoenberg’s ecstatic celebration of love and forgiveness, a darker, sadder reflection by an old man who had seen much of his familiar world crumble about him. The swelling phrases are weighed down with grief and sorrow, yet the bitter-sweet harmonies and flowing melodies afford their own poignant consolation.

The digital sound here is superb, with a lovely balance between the deep, resonant bass lines and violins which swoop and soar stratospherically without harshness.

There is a palpable joy is the music-making here which readily communicates itself to the listener.

Ralph Moore

This CD is long out of print, and as such, we would not normally publish a review. However, because of the positive nature of the review, and the fact that it is still possible to source copies.we have decided to do so. There is also the hope that one of the reissue labels or companies such as ArkivMusic or Presto might pick it up.

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