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Strauss: Enoch Arden; Piano Pieces, Op 3, Stewart/ Ax

09.14.07
Emanuel Ax
Guardian Unlimited

By TIM ASHLEY 

 Strauss wrote Enoch Arden in 1897 as a vehicle for Ernest von Possart, a well-known actor-producer of his day, who was also Strauss's boss during his years at the Munich Court Opera. A melodrama in the original meaning of the word - a work with musical accompaniment - it's a setting of Tennyson's poem about the eponymous shipwrecked sailor who eventually makes it home, only to discover that his wife, Annie, believing him dead and driven to penury in his absence, has married Philip, Enoch's best friend from childhood.

Some of it has the sketchiness associated with compositional haste, but there are some fine things towards the end when Strauss, ever the accomplished psychologist, digs deep into Enoch's moral and emotional agony. Patrick Stewart is the latest in a long list of actors to champion the work, and his performance with pianist Emanuel Ax is a model of intimate restraint until we get to the closing pages, when the pair of them ratchet up the voltage to overwhelming effect. Two of the Five Piano Pieces Op 3 (not Op 30, as it says on the sleeve) are also included: Ax plays them with great finesse.