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Enoch Arden

Michael York, whose appearance in such classic films as Romeo and Juliet, Cabaret, The Three Musketeers, and Logan's Run made him a household name, is an exceptionally versatile actor. In addition to his recent appearance in Goldmember and the other Austin Powers movies, the release of a new CD reveals just how remarkable a storyteller he is.

For the first time in more than forty years, Enoch Arden, Richard Strauss's melodrama for narrator and piano is given eloquent new life. Set to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's famous narrative poem, Enoch Arden presents an enormous challenge for any actor, making it all the more remarkable that only one other professional actor - Claude Rains - has ever recorded it. Accompanying York on this new Americus Records release is pianist and M&V contributor John Bell Young.

The last major recording of Enoch Arden was made in 1962, when Rains and pianist Glenn Gould collaborated in what has since become a collector's item. Since then, not a single actor has tackled it on disc (though several pre-eminent retired singers have), and it is seldom performed. The Americus release is the only recording of the work to include a reprint of the entire poem, as well as reprints of lithographs from the original 1864 edition of Tennyson's poem.

Melodrama normally evokes an idea of raucous temper tantrums and obsequious soap operas. But the genre is actually centuries old. A child of music and theatre, a melodrama is a hybrid of artistic expression in which a poem or narrative is spoken, while a musical accompaniment intermittently paints the mood and characters depicted.

Tennyson's touching work, which was the inspiration for several films including Tom Hanks's Castaway, is the story of a young sailor who sets off to sea leaving his new wife, Annie Lee and their children at home on the English coast. When Enoch fails to return and is presumed dead, his best friend Phillip Ray marries Annie. But Enoch is alive, shipwrecked on a remote desert island. Rescued more than ten years later, he makes his way back to England. Devastated by the loss of his family, and fearing they will no longer recognize him, or worse, resent him, Enoch keeps agonizing vigil from a distance. Only after his death - from loneliness - does his family learn of his return.

'With mounting excitement, I heard how potent and moving the mixture of words and music was, elaborating a story at once intimate and epic', says York. 'I felt instinctively that a studio version could best bring out the delicacy and intimacy inherent in the text. Most of the characters - even the outgoing Enoch - speak with a tenderness that resists declamation. There are, of course, moments when the music rises to tumultuous peaks - as when the returned castaway rails against his fate - but, for the most part, sober English sang-froid prevails.' Young describes Strauss's music as a 'hypnotic brocade of colors that grabs your attention and won't let go.'

Michael York and John Bell Young perform Enoch Arden throughout Europe and the USA in 2003 and 2004, including at Tennyson's home on the Isle of Wight and at the Gerlesborgsskolan Festival in Sweden.


Posted: 20 March 2003

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