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Music of power, pathos and passion,
This review is from: Meyerbeer: Music for the Stage (Audio CD)
The incidental music, and especially the overtures to Beethoven's `Egmont', Schubert's `Rosamunde', Mendelssohn's `A Midsummernight's Dream' and Grieg's `Peer Gynt', are all favourite pieces of the Romantic repertoire. But I am sure you do not know the music Meyerbeer wrote for his short-lived youngest brother, Michael Beer's drama `Struensee' (1828)? This story about the farsighted political reformer, Johann Friedrich Struensee (1737-72), a German doctor who became the virtual dictator of Denmark and lover of the queen, Caroline Matilda, is a tale of frustrated idealism, and its destruction by the dark forces of obscurantism and reaction. His hubris, leading to betrayal, arrest and execution for treason, provides the material for powerful drama, and the music Meyerbeer provided for this play in 1846, once it had been released from political ban by King Frederick William IV of Prussia (who was related to the Danish royal family), is full of passion, grandeur and pathos.
The overture used to be a well-known concert piece until the interwar years, but then disappeared from public ken and consciousness with all Meyerbeer's music--as though this composer has enduringly been tainted with the curse of Wagnerian rejection and National-Socialist anti-Semitism. You should listen to this overture, so startling in power and beauty, with its mysterious opening theme for the harps and the cellos, and its central conflict in sonata form, between the convoluted theme Conspiracy and the fragility of Fated Love, all leading to the final triumphant peroration, where the symphonic transformation of the opening theme celebrates the spirit of human endeavour and idealism. You will hear how Meyerbeer's orchestral technique and melodic concepts were of influence on composers like Liszt (the opening theme could come from one of Liszt's tone poems) and Tchaikovsky (the descending c minor love music which looks to the Fourth Symphony ).
The other pieces are all fascinating in their different modes and moods. The three entr'actes continue to tell Struensee's story in music, from the tumultuous passion of the Revolt of the Norwegian Guards (with its rich choral setting of the Danish Royal anthem and the weighted trudging motif of tragic heroism for the oboes), the Royal Ball (a sumptuous Polonaise depicting the masked ball during which Struensee was betrayed and arrested), the Country Inn (a delicate pastorale as Struensee's father, a pastor in the countryside, is sought out), the Prison (where the father visits his son in his incarceration, a presentation of the noble opening t theme of the overture, representing paternal love). Other exquisite moments are the Benediction of the son by his father (an extraordinary piece written for three cellos), Struensee's Dream (which relives his tragic love for the Queen and his failed political ambitions), to the desolating Death March (which most decidedly looks forward to Mahler). This incidental music is highly unusual and rivetingly attractive. Why is is not known and played is a mystery. Do not miss out on this musical revelation.
As an additional point of interest the CD also contains orchestral music from Meyerbeer's famous operas `Le Prophète' and `L'Africaine'. The legendary Coronation March from the former is played resplendently, with all it grandiose majesty and passion captured by the perfect sense of tempo; and also the famous Skaters' Ballet, played as Meyerbeer wrote, in all its melodic blandishment and rhythmic power, in a shower of orchestral virtuosity. The overture to Meyerbeer's last opera `L'Africaine' could not be more different: is very short, but full of yearning and pathos, a recital of tragic transient beauty and loss.
The North German Radio Orchestra play at all times with fervour and commitment, directed by a conductor who understands this music perfectly, and brings out all its diverse qualities and emotional perspectives. For something that is old but new, fresh, consistently stimulating and attractive, this CD can hardly be recommended highly enough. The score for this music can be found in 'Giacomo Meyerbeer: Orchestral Works'(2009).