Oculi Ensemble during album recording sessions
Oculi Ensemble during album recording sessions

Throughout his childhood the young Richard Strauss was mentored by his father, horn player in the court of Ludwig II, the “Swan King”. The conservative elder Strauss dictated a strict diet of classical German composers and a love for their music was to remain with his pupil till his dying day.

In that case, why did Strauss not compose more chamber music? We have some youthful works up to his early twenties, but after that he veered off into the extravagant orchestral tone poems and operas that made his name.

This seductive disc from the Oculi Ensemble — a “labour of love”, they say — brings together a handful of those rarely played early pieces with two late works that can be dragooned into a chamber music programme to give it ballast.

Album cover of ‘Strauss’s Metamorphosen’ by Oculi Ensemble

The String Quartet, written when Strauss was 16, is a delightful blend of Mozart and Mendelssohn (thank you, father) and deserves to be heard from time to time. A selection of occasional pieces includes the song-without-words Ständchen and the affectionate Liebesliedchen. There is also a historical curiosity in the first recording of a youthful sketch for string quartet — interesting, though it runs out after a minute-and-a-half.

The Oculi Ensemble play with a fine blend of sound in all of these, as they do in the quietly rapturous string sextet from the opera Capriccio. The final work is the late masterpiece Metamorphosen, performed in an arrangement derived from Strauss’s first draft for seven string instruments — an appealing find.

★★★★☆

Strauss: Metamorphosen’ is released by Champs Hill Records

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