by James Norris
Salon evenings are a rare event in musical circles today but without the distractions of the internet and TV they were one of the most important aspects of 19th Century musical life. Richard Strauss, always keen to experiment with musical forms, wrote a number of works to combine various ideas one being “Enoch Arden“ a melodrama for Piano and Speaker written in 1897 taking as its text the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about a Scottish father who signs onboard a ship to make his fortune only to return years later to find the all has changed and he has been forgotten.
It’s fascinating to compare the two available recordings of this work one with Glenn Gould and Claude Rains and the other by Emanuel Ax and Patrick Stewart. Both actors have Hollywood star quality but Rains gives a performance which I think is closest to the Victorian idea, this is not surprising given that he made his London stage debut in 1897 ( the year this work was written ) in the Melodrama “ Nell of Old Drury “ and thus would have heard the great performers of the day reciting these verses in the true Victorian style. Rains caresses the verse at the beginning and builds the text with great skill and verve thundering out the dramatic climaxes and giving a tour de force of acting skill astonishing for a man then in his late 60’s. Glenn Gould also produces some very moving moments of tenderness as well as pianistic panache when required and at the end of the 45 minute piece you feel you have been on the journey with Enoch and feel his emotion.
Patrick Stewart sets about the piece in a different way, it is almost a fireside chat with piano accompaniment, however his smooth delivery and obvious care for the text shines through and many listeners might find his approach less theatrical than Rains and more acceptable to modern ears. The piano is placed in lesser focus than Gould and this does not help to create the immediacy needed for this piece.
The good news is that with both discs being at a bargain price you can enjoy both and make your mind up over time as each have moments to treasure and hearing two actors at the top of their game giving their unique interpretations is fascinating.
Link is to our affiliate, Amazon.
Audiophilia welcomes our newest contributor, James Norris. James was educated at Trinity College of Music, London, The Royal College of Music, RADA and the American Actors Guild. He is a musician and actor of international stature. Audiophilia is thrilled to add James to our Masthead.