Lenore is a dramatic cantata on the fantasy text of a ballad written by Gottfried August Bürger in 1773. The poem is a story of love, despair, and the seemingly endless road to death. Wilhelm has gone off to war as his beloved Lenore waits for his return. The Army’s troops do return, but Wilhelm is not among them. Seven long years pass, and Lenore still waits in a state of anguish that she expresses quite vehemently to her mother. Finally, an other-worldly Wilhelm appears on his horse and beckons Lenore to hop aboard as they gallop to their nuptial bed; the crafty Wilhelm leaves out the fact that they are destined for their graves. After a long journey, they reach their destination, and Wilhelm becomes a skeleton and Lenore dies.
Bürger was not a highly regarded writer. In fact, he was ridiculed on a frequent basis. Judging from "Lenore", the ridicule might have been warranted. The plot is very thin, and character development non-existent. Wilhelm is only a wooden figure with just one thought on his mind, to take Lenore to her death. Lenore is also one-dimensional and ridiculously gullible as to Wilhelm’s intentions. Bürger simply does not inject any meaningful human qualities into his figures.
Fortunately, Reicha’s music to the inadequate story telling saves the day. He invests his composition with ample variety of instrumentation, vocal contribution, musical form, and breadth of emotion. Essentially, Reicha gives life to the wooden text, and I commend him for the accomplishment. While his "Lenore" is not a masterpiece by any means, it is consistently enjoyable and holds one’s attention throughout.
Frieder Bernius excellently leads the new Orfeo performance with compelling contributions by the chorus. Each of the vocal soloists is appropriately expressive and of attractive tone. Sound quality is superb, allowing all of Reicha’s musical detail and counterpoint to shine through.
Although Reicha’s "Lenore" is quite obscure, there is another recording of it on Supraphon that is also rewarding. However, the age of the performance does show, and Mátl doesn’t deliver as vibrant or strongly punctuated a performance as Bernius.
There is one feature advantageous to the Supraphon release. It offers the text in four languages including English; Orfeo only gives us the German text. That could be quite damaging to an understanding of the plot and human emotions, but the music is much more expressive than the text and Orfeo does provide a fine synopsis of the plot.
For readers enamored of the musical bridge connecting the Classical and Romantic eras, this new Orfeo recording of Reicha’s "Lenore" is self-recommending. If the absence of the text in English is significant, I can confidently suggest the Supraphon release as a valid alternative. Whichever you choose, Reicha’s music is very alluring and worth your investigation.
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