Wagnerian tenor Stuart Skelton — Monika Kolstad
Wagnerian tenor Stuart Skelton © Monika Kolstad

A century ago music was looking back on one of its most productive periods. The opening decades of the 20th century saw the final explosion of Romanticism as it collapsed into the modern era, a supernova of activity that gave us as many great works as any time in history.

The centrepiece of this disc is Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, performed here in his string orchestra version from 1917. Its sense of heightened emotion, so redolent of Freud’s Vienna in those years, is well captured by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Edward Gardner.

The raison d’être of the disc, though, lies in the rest of the programme. Alongside the Schoenberg come rarely performed vocal works, all similarly born in that final blaze of Romanticism, and making a splendid showpiece for Wagnerian tenor Stuart Skelton.

Korngold’s Lieder des Abschieds, written in 1920-21, are a guilty pleasure, four lusciously glittering songs of yearning that might be a farewell to Romanticism itself. Lehár’s symphonic poem Fieber from 1915 is an extraordinary piece, putting into music the fevered thoughts of a wounded soldier. Skelton encompasses their challenging vocal parts with musicality and an understandable touch of caution.

In between, Oskar Fried’s Verklärte Nacht gives us another take on the poem that inspired Schoenberg. This is a quasi-operatic scene for two voices, in which Skelton is joined by mezzo Christine Rice, and even more indulgently Romantic. What an intoxicating way to start the new year.

★★★★★

Verklärte Nacht’ is released by Chandos

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