and the Dresden Staatskapelle have a venerable history together.
The Staatskapelle premièred nine of his operas and the composer
dedicated his Alpine Symphony to them. Their latest recording
of the symphony is to be reviewed elsewhere on MusicWeb. Many
distinguished recordings with Böhm, Kempe and Sinopoli set a
standard up to which another Italian, Fabio Luisi, will want
to live. Born in 1959 in Genoa, his association with the ‘Dresdeners’
began in 2002 at the Salzburg Festival. He became their Music
Director and principal conductor in summer 2007.
Luisi is to record
an extensive Strauss orchestral cycle with the Staatskapelle.
There are three releases so far: this one, the aforementioned
Alpine Symphony and Four Last Songs (Sony Classical,
88697141972) and then a Don Quixote (SK 93100). They
make a very exciting start.
Of the Heldenleben
Luisi is at great pains to point up the contrasts, the orchestral
colour and at the same time the charm. Consciously mindful of
the acclaimed Kempe legacy, Luisi elicits from the orchestra
feeling, momentum and all the necessary heroics which, if mishandled,
can sound hollow. He shuns neither the bold - listen to the
opening horn salvos - nor the touching: the sensitivity of the
strings. The musical self-references in the ‘Friedenswerke’
section can be a bit of a gamble. Are they the composer’s, the
Hero’s, music? Are they archetypes? Luisi gets it just right
and convinces us that Strauss was a hero but a figure
to whom bombast was alien.
uses a little known finale to Ein Heldenleben.
Instead of the Zarathustra fanfare, one of Strauss’s
manuscripts has a ‘quiet ending’ where the violin - in this
case, that of the Staatskapelle’s Konzertmeister, Kai Vogler
- descends gently and pointedly to a pianissimo close. This
somehow takes any sense of exaggeration out of the piece, making
it less egotistical. Termed ‘original ending’ on this CD, it
works well. This would seem to be the first Super Audio disc
(SACD) recorded in this version.
For the sonic experience,
this is also a superb recording. Remarkable is the spacious
and warmly resonant acoustic of the Dresden Lukaskirche. The
sound-stage is uncommonly wide and deep. The engineers have
captured a real sense of space, which only enhances the expert
and commanding playing throughout.
The battle is particularly
thrilling. Ultimately, though, it’s Luisi’s interpretation and
the playing of the Staatskapelle that count. Yes, it’s a persuasive,
satisfying and substantial performance in which Luisi a Mediterranean
warmth is brought to the melodies. Luisi shows a very romantic
understanding of the music. At times, his gentle legato and
rubato narrowly avoid the mannered. But they do avoid it and
few listeners will be disappointed with this carefully conceived
and confidently executed account of Strauss’s early masterpiece.
He has something new to say about a very familiar composition
and repeat listenings reveal it in a new light … a clever balance
between the discipline of the music and its rhetoric. First
approach to Strauss’s string writing is even more evident, even
more successful in his account of Metamorphosen. It too
will linger with you for some time after the last, haunting
theme has vanished. This is due, not to maudlin or sentiment
but to a poise and detachment that are as refreshing as they
are effective. Strauss was over 80 when he finished Metamorphosen.
It is the composer’s response, with untrammelled grief and regret,
to the destruction in the Second World War of many places in
which his works had been performed. This is not done in any
vain sense. His greater and more pressing despair was for the
loss of the culture which meant so much to him and to others.
Luisi makes this
Metamorphosen not a requiem or a lament but a quiet,
knowing reflection. Surely – with the reference to the defiant
Eroica - that’s a sustainable decision. It certainly
works. This interpretation is clear, warm, exciting, generous
and above all very convincing. The reasons for the sorrow come
from within the music rather than from an assumption that one
knows how sorrow ‘works’; that’s too easy.
All in all, these
are responsive, contemporary readings of familiar works whose
finer and more beautiful points are offered in a fresh light.
Luisi steers a perfect middle course between hammer and feather.
He chooses not a brush but a high-definition camera to represent
what Strauss was intent on communicating.
accompanying booklet is adequate - though imperfectly proofed.
Unfortunately it’s printed in colours that make it hard to read
in places: Why do designers do that … beige and chocolate background?
It almost goes without saying that the recording is outstanding.
Acoustic clarity, depth and dynamic all work to support very
persuasive readings of these introspective works adopting an
approach that avoids the fanciful and favours the precise.
if this is indicative of what’s to come in the series, it’s
certainly promising. The music on this CD begins with a flourish
and ends with a truly engaging sense of a strength and commitment
that lies right at the very heart of the music’s essence. This
is a recording which is likely to become a favourite for Strauss
lovers and should certainly make converts.