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Enjott SCHNEIDER (b. 1950)
Magic of Irreality
Isolde & Tristan (2014) [34:03]
Dreamdancers [25:27]
Jiemin Yan (erhu)
Wenn-Sinn Yang (violoncello)
Otto Sauter (piccolo trumpet)
Sergei Nakariakov (flugelhorn)
Siberian State Symphony Orchestra, Krasnoyarsk/Vladimir Lande
rec. 2012, Kranojarsk, Siberia
WERGO WER51182 [59:35]

Acclaimed for his film music, Enjott Schneider’s output also includes operas, chamber music, symphonic orchestral works and concertos. Both of the works here are double concertos with unconventional pairings of soloists, with Isolde & Tristan transforming Wagner’s operatic concept to have the role of Isolde expressed by an erhu, a two-stringed bowed instrument that has a peculiar nasal sound, contrasting and at the same time complementing the sonorities of the cello that becomes the ‘Hero Tristan’.

There are four movements in Isolde & Tristan, with the famous ‘Tristan chord’ cropping up early on and re-appearing at various moments. Schneider blends Wagnerian harmonies with different musical characteristics such as the Chinese atmosphere in the first movement, “Once Upon a Time … Far on Northern Islands”, and Isolde’s Irish origins are invoked in the second, “Death Potion or Love Potion.” As these titles imply, there is a dramatic narrative being followed, and there is a cinematic quality to the music at times that is understandably connected to Schneider’s work in this field. In other words, this is by no means difficult in terms of its idiom, which is likely to be appreciated by anyone who likes a juicily romantic atmosphere.

Dreamdancers “is a journey into the alternate realities of night.” Schneider refers to the kinship he fills with Surrealism in art, “allowing spiritual transcendence to collide with the banalities of daily life… writing an unreal kind of music using techniques such as collage, confrontation, metamorphosis, obfuscation, temporal shifts and superimposed tempos…” Cinematic colour is evident here as with the previous work, though here this is most immediately apparent in an orchestration that allows for plenty of tuned and tinkly high percussion, swirling harps, clustering strings and other assorted spookiness that most of us will have heard all too many times before. The pairing of a penetrating piccolo trumpet and the more mellifluous flugelhorn is an interesting one, but while there is plenty of virtuosity on offer you won’t come away with any memorable tunes or much sense of a musical architecture that intrigues and demands re-hearing for greater comprehension and appreciation.

With skilled performances and a decent recording, this is one of those releases that is likely to divide audiences. If you like your music well-crafted and fairly easy to consume then this should appeal greatly, though I would like to do a survey and see how many of those in this category have replayed it more than once or twice over the course of a year. The other camp will probably consider this as corny as hell and avoid it at all costs. I can indeed admire the skill at work here, but this is the kind of music that becomes less interesting the closer you look at it. Richard Wagner and Bernard Hermann have already trodden these paths, and the contrasts and juxtapositions here don’t go far enough to create something fresh and inspiring.

Dominy Clements

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