> STRAUSS Heldenleben Mengelberg 8.110161 [JW]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ein Heldenleben
Tod und Verklarung

Concertgebouw Orchestra
Willem Mengelberg conductor
Recorded Concertgebouw 1941 (Ein Heldenleben) and 1942 (Tod und Verklarung)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110161 [65.54]
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Strauss’s dedication of Ein Heldenleben was jointly to Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The conductor recorded it twice, firstly in 1928 with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra (on Pearl Gemm 008) and again for Telefunken in 1941, the subject of this re-issue, with his own orchestra. The earlier recording has been more generally available than this wartime set which came toward the end of Mengelberg’s active commercial recording career. A rather poor transfer appeared on Teldec and a rather better one is on LYS 418, coupled with two versions of Don Juan.

The differences between the two Heldenlebens are quite considerable. The NYPSO was, even in 1928, a much more sheerly virtuosic orchestra than the war-sapped 1941 Concertgebouw. New York’s Guidi Scipione was a scintillating violin soloist whereas Ferdinand Helman is plagued by intonational worries and a vibrato that takes some getting used to. That said Mengelberg’s notorious "changements" to Strauss’s score are equally evident in the 1928 recording – separately bowed triplets, a Brucknerian sized luftpausen or two, the full panoply of late romantic interpretation. The 1941 recording features less fluent playing but it is still an extraordinary document of the highest significance. Listen to the lyric intensity of the violins at 2.47, the magnificent punching trumpets and the pervasive mahogany double bass sonorities. Or listen to the portamentos Mengelberg encourages – this is an especially compelling example of uniformly applied portamenti that, by this decade, was supposed to be on the wane and is a constant feature of Mengelberg’s emotional-expressive armoury. Helman’s solos are rather tremulous, portamento-rich and tonally unalluring but they are certainly not without either musical interest or point; his musical line is never frivolous. The passionate conviction of the performance and the good sound are carried over to Tod und Verklarung, one of Mengelberg’s very last 1942 commercial discs. This is a performance as far removed from the philosophically serene as one could wish to hear. As sleeve note writer Ian Julier puts it, Mengelberg offers a "witheringly poignant and pained knell of regret." The lavish portamentos sound more than ever passionately urgent in a performance of this kind and enormous chasms of visceral feeling are opened up.

Mengelberg has been increasingly well served recently on CD – Q Disc and Apollo Sound have been especially active as has Pearl itself and others – but this late Straussian disc is deserving of wide currency.

Jonathan Woolf


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