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Josephs Legende

Staatskapelle Dresden/Giuseppe Sinopoli
DG 463 493-2  [63'54"]

Ballet music took widely divergent routes just before the First War. For Diaghilev Stravinsky composed The Rite of Spring and Strauss displayed his orchestral wizardry in Josephs Legende. The Rite's seismic implications for music thereafter contrast violently with Strauss's nostalgia. To quote Michael Kennedy, Josephs Legende "might have been designed to bring down the curtain on a world that ended in 1914."

An hour of creamy-rich Strauss is something of an indulgence. This lengthy score certainly has it longeurs, and too many orgiastic climaxes lose their appeal (in music anyway!). We can certainly take Strauss's mastery of the orchestra for granted; and if the invention isn't from his top drawer, there's always something happening to keep the attention.

This isn't music that will stand too many listens but it's nice to have for the occasional airing. Part of the appeal is the Dresden orchestra's sumptuous sound and virtuosity (they really understand Strauss) and Sinopoli can be guaranteed to extract every instrumental line and present it for examination. He's certainly carried out quite an autopsy on this score!

The worlds of Der Rosenkavalier and Salome meet here. There's some touching things, some exuberant things, and a touch of the exotic (or do I mean erotic?). Strauss uses a vast orchestra but reduces it to chamber proportions when required. Let's add Ariadne auf Naxos to the mix; and there are reminders that An Alpine Symphony was also being composed at this time.

If an orchestral wallow appeals which suggests an immense pillared hall, six Turkish boxers, a golden hammock appearing in the loggia, henchmen coming out of the palace carrying a brazier filled with red-hot embers, and, of course, an archangel clad in gold, then you should enjoy yourself hugely. Track 15 would be a good sampling point - 1'06" introduces a very beautiful theme, radiantly played by violins, which returns gloriously in the ballet's thrilling peroration.

This is Strauss at his most luxuriant and colourful and is given the full Dresden/Sinopoli treatment in this live, arresting rendition that has been superbly recorded.


Colin Anderson

(Performance and sound)

A second opinion from Colin Clarke

Strauss struggled to find the impetus to compose Josephs Legende. First considered in 1909, it was finally completed on February 2nd, 1914. Even then, Strauss had to take recourse to the sketches for an abandoned 1900 ballet, Kythere. All this does not bode well.

The biblical story of the attempted seduction of Joseph by Potipher's wife provides the inspiration for this ballet. It is a measure of Sinopoli's vision that this CD seems to demand repeated listening and that the 28 movements (each with a separate track) make a coherent and eminently enjoyable whole.

This performance presents the best of Sinopoli. He no longer seems to have a purely deconstructionist approach. Instead, he seems to be mellowing so that textural clarity is married to a real feeling for Straussian late-Romanticism. Sinopoli's pacing is nothing less than inspired. He refrains from over-sentimentalising so the coherence of this piece is never in doubt. The Dresden Staatskapelle seem to sense this and give their all. The string sound is mellow, the brass punchy and to top it all the recording (made in Dresden's Semperoper in September 1999) combines depth with detail.

There is much incident packed into this hour's listening, from the heavy, intoxicating textures of Sulamith's Dance (subtitled Die glühendste Liebessehnsucht - 'The most ardent desire') to the high drama of the dénouement. Even in the First Slave-Girl Dance (during which she spits in Joseph's face), where Strauss piles layer upon layer, Sinopoli refuses to overload the moment without for a second deflecting from the ongoing adrenaline rush. Only when the Archangel clad in gold appears does the music seem to require that touch more magic. In fact, though, Sinopoli is holding back for the final moments, which are lavished with all the care they deserve.

This recording effectively sweeps away any competition from the excerpted suites or otherwise. I cannot recommend this disc highly enough.


Colin Clarke




Colin Anderson


Colin Clarke

(Performance and sound)

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