Opera Fantasias from Shadowlands = HEINRICH MARSCHNER: Overture to The Vampire; BEETHOVEN: From Sonata No. 14, “Moonlight”; KORNGOLD: Great Fantasie from Die tote Stadt; OFFENBACH: Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld; STRAUSS: Great Fantasie from Ariadne auf Naxos; MEYERBEER: Fantasie on Motives from Robert le Diable – Le Quatuor Romantique – Ars multichannel SACD 38 075, 75:38 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:
I cannot tell you how surprised I am at myself for liking this album. Recently I reviewed a Christmas disc by these same forces to great acclaim, and I was startled then as well. This disc was the second I listened to, and I was not looking forward to it; at least with the Christmas disc I knew it would have a seasonal flavor and could be excused on the grounds that the odd instrumentation (violin, cello, harmonium, piano) was perhaps seasonal also. So I put this one off for a couple of weeks, actually dreading it, as I don’t in general like transcriptions and arrangements and those sorts of things.
But Le Quatuor Romantique fools me once again and turns in a marvelous disc of arrangements of transcriptions based on the notion of emergence of the “dark side” in post-enlightenment thought, a time when Dracula, Frankenstein, and even the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm were making their appearance. It seems that the darker side of human nature was taking root as a new sort of aesthetic beauty, and tales of the not-quite-dead, those coming back from the dead, the luminosity of the hideous, the attraction of the netherworld, and the refusal to disconnect from those loved spawned a whole new genre that is with us still today—the Gothic.
I suppose that one could argue the Gothic started with Hamlet or Macbeth, and musicians were quick to pick up on it, especially in opera, and the tales opened a wide road for all sorts of dramatic music and special effects on stage. Ghosts, spirits, devils, longing, loss, even murder and other kinds of human perversions all make for potent opera, and each of the works on this disc—sans Beethoven—provide examples of the art spanning a hundred years. Regarding the man from Bonn, the Moonlight Sonata was not intended as any sort of diabolical sequence, but only as a sort of fantasia, even though it is still a sonata. But we can forgive this brief aberration as the rest of the program works so well, and even the Moonlight is atmospheric in this arrangement. The rest of the music will provide many surprises when played in sequence, and provoke thought as to the great variety of music—and its emotional tone—found in this subject matter. I mean, doesn’t Orpheus in the Underworld have a Can-Can? And how nice to hear the main subjects of Die Tote Stadt in such an effective setting.
So this is far from parlor music, and the players are quite accomplished and persuasive, aided by magnificent surround sound. If you are looking for something different—and a real change of pace—you have just discovered it.
— Steven Ritter