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Rosenkavalier Suite, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Don Juan

SWR Radio-Sinfonieorchester/Georges Prêtre
HÄNSSLER Classic CD 93.012 [59:34]
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Hänssler's series of live recordings from the archives of South West German Radio continues apace with this all-Strauss offering from Georges Prêtre recorded on three separate occasions between 1995 and 1998. Prêtre (b. 1924) has had a most interesting career as a recording artist. He has made many major contributions in the fields of opera and twentieth century music and his discography is extremely extensive with a strong bias towards the music of his homeland, France. In many ways he is the least well-known of the conductors who have performed continuously since emerging as the new talents directly after the Second World War. He gave the final performance at the Old Met in New York in 1966 (and the first in the New Met later that year) and also conducted the opening gala concert at the Bastille Opera, Paris in 1989. From the early 1950s to the present day he has appeared as guest conductor at many of the world's great opera houses and orchestras. Indeed, Prêtre has gained an unassailable reputation amongst his fellow musicians, which, due perhaps to his unassuming nature, has never quite transferred to the music-loving public at large. In 1992 he began an intensely fruitful working relationship with the South West German Radio Orchestra (as the orchestra on this CD is better known to English speakers) which continues to this day. A re-evaluation of his work, both live and on record, is sorely needed. Even the usually reliable internet populated by a myriad of enthusiasts is curiously silent on the subject of Georges Prêtre.

Taking a very different standpoint, one now has to ask the question of Hänssler whether a sub 60-minute CD of live recordings, originally made for radio broadcast, of three of Richard Strauss' most popular orchestral works, performed by a 'local' German orchestra, really has a chance of competing with the many studio recordings that have preceded them. One only has to think of Kempe's superb traversal of all the Strauss orchestral music with the Dresden State Orchestra for EMI or Karajan's fine Don Juan from Berlin and Stokowski's famous New York Till (all at mid-price) as well as Norman del Mar's own stunning suite from Der Rosenkavalier with the London Philharmonic (last available on a super-budget CFP 'double') to find good reason to ask this question.

The answer is predictable. As interpretations, these performances show Prêtre at his finest. One is aware, throughout, of the immense experience he has in performing this music. His use of rubato is never exaggerated - Strauss provided enough fluctuation in his very subtle writing 'on the page' for additional interpretation to be both unnecessary and, usually, downright dangerous. Prêtre's ear for balance and his understanding of the programmes which lie beneath each of these three works is always at the service of the music making. Anyone new to this music would certainly not feel short changed by this CD; the recording is very good (especially Don Juan and Till recorded at the orchestra's Stuttgart home, the Liederhalle) and there are some hair-raising moments.

But live recordings have their disadvantages and it has to be said that the playing of the South West German Radio Orchestra is occasionally not in the top league. Fine whooping horns in Der Rosenkavalier, expressive bassoons in Till Eulenspiegel and a superb oboe in Don Juan make up the highlights. The other side of the coin brings mezzo forte entries which should be fortissimo from the strings and a host of other little slips which occur rather too frequently from all the sections. Examples include the late entry of the brass at 14:53 and a disastrously backward trumpet at the climax (12:51) of Don Juan.

Something, therefore, of a curate's egg. This well recorded disc is certainly worth trying if you admire Georges Prêtre.


Simon Foster



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Rosenkavalier Suite AV 145 Op. 59

Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche Op. 28

Don Juan Op. 20

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