STRAUSS: Enoch Arden, op. 38.
David Ripley (speaker); Chad R. Bowles (piano).
JRI Recordings J127 TT: 78:53

Yawn. Richard Strauss composed Enoch Arden, a melodrama for speaker and pianist, in 1897, around the same time as Don Quixote. Nineteenth-Century audiences liked the form of melodrama (a speaker reciting to musical accompaniment). Strauss wrote the piece quite frankly to make money, and to maximize fees, he toured with a prominent German actor to decent audiences (although he typically complained that he got less than he had hoped for).

This is nowhere near top-drawer Strauss, although it's well put-together, using Leitmotiven to "tag" various characters. Strauss sets a German translation of the poem by Tennyson, which has provided the basis of many a Hollywood script, including the comedy classic The Awful Truth, although the original is all about noble suffering and renunciation. The Strauss and the Tennyson are as dated as a Landseer painting or a horsehair sofa.

The Strauss in particular has descended to the status of curio. Oddly enough, there have been at least two other recordings: Glenn Gould and Claude Rains; Patrick Stewart and Emanuel Ax. The Gould/Rains may not exactly count as camp, but you can practically see the limelight. Stewart and Ax give a much soberer, more "naturalistic" performance. The speaker largely determines the character (and the success) of the piece, since the music on its own doesn't have enough "grip" to sustain interest. It really is background music, and not all that interesting at that. Stewart not only knows how to read poetry, but he gives precisely observed characters. I never thought that much of him on Star Trek or in the X-Men franchise, but he proves himself here a fine actor, carrying one along through Strauss's longeurs.

David Ripley, a well-regarded American baritone, doesn't declaim poetry all that well and certainly doesn't have Stewart's acting chops. His reading has all the animation of a lumber yard. Keep in mind that Strauss goes on for close to 80 minutes. I challenge you to stay awake. A miss, a palpable miss.

S.G.S. (March 2011)