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
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
The Strauss in particular has descended to the status of curio. Oddly
enough, there have been at least two other recordings: Glenn Gould and
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
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
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
on for close to 80 minutes. I challenge you to stay awake. A miss, a
S.G.S. (March 2011)