Verklärte Nacht review – poetic journeys between dark and light

Edward Gardner finds sumptuous intensity in Schoenberg’s drama, alongside a lesser-known version by Fried and dramatic songs to frame an intriguing collection

More than one piece of headily romantic music was inspired by Richard Dehmel’s 1896 poem Verklärte Nacht, or Transfigured Night. The most familiar remains Schoenberg’s string masterpiece, first conceived as a sextet in 1899, reworked for string orchestra nearly two decades later and rarely very far from its composer’s mind for the rest of his life. This, in its orchestral version, is the pivotal piece on this recording, and it finds Edward Gardner drawing playing of sumptuous intensity but also ravishing delicacy from the strings of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in the studio days before the first lockdown.

But it’s the rest of the repertoire that makes this disc especially interesting. Another composer inspired by Verklärte Nacht was Oskar Fried, who set the words as a glowingly Romantic tone poem for mezzo-soprano, tenor and orchestra. Fried captures the poem’s theme of transcendence in music that blooms from darkness into light, finally framing the tenor soloist as a kind of Wagnerian hero – to which Stuart Skelton rises gloriously, while Christine Rice brings mellow richness to the mezzo’s music.

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