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Briefly Noted: Melodramas with the Vogts

available at Amazon
Schumann / Strauss, Melodramas, Isabelle Vogt, Lars Vogt

(released on February 4, 2022)
CAvi 8553576D | 61'25"
File this one under the heading of Curiosities. German pianist Lars Vogt and his daughter, actress Isabelle Vogt, have recorded these three melodramas, Romantic poems recited to musical accompaniment. They are live recordings of performances given in 2018 at the Spannungen Festival, held in a hydroelectric plant in Heimbach, Germany, and then virtually in 2020, due to the pandemic. First are Robert Schumann's Zwei Balladen für Deklamation, op. 122, composed from 1852 to 1853, a short time before the composer's confinement to an asylum. In the "Ballade vom Haideknaben," written by Christian Friedrich Hebbel, a moorland apprentice is forced by his master to carry a sum of money to the next village. He dreams that he is murdered along the way for the money, and in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, it happens.

In "Die Flüchtlinge," a poem by Percy Shelley translated into German by Julius Seybt, a woman flees her wedding day with her lover. They set out on the storm-tossed ocean in a small boat while her father and intended bridegroom watch from the castle above the port. This is arch-Romantic stuff, recited with emotional fervor by Isabelle Vogt. Schumann meant the musical phrases in the piano to be timed meticulously with the declamation of the poetry for maximal effect, and Lars Vogt does this with precision and a sense of wild abandon.

These more modest works, each only a few minutes, are dwarfed by Richard Strauss's "Enoch Arden," written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and translated into German by Adolf Strodtmann. At almost an hour to recite, this long poem tells the story of three childhood friends, a girl and two boys. The girl, Annie Lee, falls in love with the poorer and rougher boy, a sailor's lad named Enoch Arden. After they are married and have children, Enoch sets to sea and is thought lost. After a time, Annie, agrees to marry the wealthy Philip Ray, their mutual friend, who loves her and raises her children as his own. When Enoch miraculously returns home, he chooses not to let Annie know he is alive, seeing that all are happy. The poem was so famous that it gave its name to the Enoch Arden doctrine, a legal concept that a divorce may be granted if a spouse is believed dead, even if the lost spouse later returns. Strauss's music is in some ways more complex, but there are long stretches of poetry left unaccompanied.

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