Sonata Opus 1 (arr. W. van Klaveren)
Lento Religioso from Symphonic Serenade
Adagio from String Quintet
Guillaume Lekeu
Adagio pour quatuor d’orchestre
Prelude from Tristan und Isolde (arr. A. Williams)
Richard Strauss
Prelude from Capriccio

Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Candida Thompson Director

Channel Classics CCS 36620
Full Price

The Review

Don’t be put off by the title of this record. While the music is all slow (or slowish), thankfully it is not all religious; in fact none of it is, not even the movement from Korngold’s Serenade from which the title is lifted. There are moments of great depth and sadness instead, caught magically by the strings of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, directed from the violin by Candida Thompson, and it is the atmosphere of loss and regret that pervades not just the music but this year of pestilence and political thuggery, for which the album serves as some sort of elegy.

The selection of works is finely curated. Wijnand van Kleveren’s arrangement breathes new and substantial life into Berg’s early Sonata. The Korngold movement is some of his most profound music, with none of the over-sweetness that can cloy his writing. The Bruckner Adagio is the longest piece in the programme and is cleverly paced by Thompson so that it never drags but gradually reveals the delicacy of the writing. He was perhaps the most religious composer in the list but this music is lyrically wistful rather than pious. Following it is Frank Bridge’s desperately sad Lament, written for the Proms in 1915 to commemorate the victims on board the Lusitania, sunk by a German U-boat in one of the worst atrocities of WW I. Bridge makes sure the poignancy hits home by dedicating it to ‘Catherine, aged nine’.

I admit I had never knowingly heard a piece by Guillaume Lekeu, a pupil of his fellow Belgian Cesar Franck, before the inclusion of his Adagio here – perhaps unsurprisingly since he died from typhoid the day after his twenty-fourth birthday. This piece effectively introduces the second half of the programme – more romantic and less valedictory than the first – since Lekeu was in thrall to Wagner and so sets the scene for the Tristan Prelude. Adrian Williams, a first rank composer in his own right, has arranged it so that solo strings emerge from the dense texture while giving full rein to the richer sonorities. Strauss wrote some of his most gorgeous string music in his last opera, Capriccio, but this is regret of a different kind from the rest of the music here. Capriccio is about (among many other things) regret for passing youth, indecision between lovers of equal attractiveness and an unease that we don’t value what we have until we lose it – all too apt. I suspect this is an album that I will often return to when storms outside are blowing fiercely.