Zinman's Strauss series with the Tonhalle Orchestra has attracted
much praise, not least from me. And this fourth volume, coupling
the massive orchestra of the Alpine Symphony with the even more
massive orchestra of the Festival Prelude, represents an appealing
composed the Alpine Symphony during 1914-15, more than ten years
after the completion of his previous large-scale orchestral work,
the Sinfonia Domestica, a state of affairs that had everything
to do with his successes in the opera house. There is an enormous
orchestra, including quadruple woodwind and brass, an abundance
of percussion instruments, wind and thunder machines, and even
a 'distant' ensemble and an organ. All this is a reflection of
the resources Strauss lived with and had come to expect in contemporary
intention was to translate into music his impression of a journey
on foot in the Bavarian Alps, a choice of subject which was no
doubt inspired by his enthusiasm for his new villa at Garmisch,
built out of the profits he had made from Salome. Strauss uses
his supreme skills as a musical illustrator in evoking every detail
of his environment. The progress of the mountain tour is reflected
in the structure - rising to an ascent and then gradually descending
again - as well as in the manner in which the themes develop.
His mastery of the orchestra is heard to magnificent effect, and
he knew it: 'Now at last I have learned to orchestrate.'
is no question that Zinman has the measure of the scope and scale
of the work. There is always a clear sense of direction and a
well articulated phrase structure. What is less certain is the
recorded sound, which lacks a certain degree of bloom in the string
sound, something which in this of all works is an important issue.
It remains the case, however, that the listener is swept along
by the colour and even the sheer grandeur of the music, though
rival versions by the likes of Karajan (DG), Kempe (EMI) and Solti
(Decca) have greater opulence.
same might be said also for the Festive Prelude. This occasional
piece was written in order to precede a special performance of
Beethoven's Choral Symphony on the occasion of the consecration
of the Konzerthaus in Vienna, in October 1913.
building was constructed on a lavish scale, the largest of its
three halls designed to accommodate an audience of four thousand,
and in these circumstances Strauss felt compelled to rise to the
occasion and on the grand scale too. He opted for some imposing
contrasts: as large a string body as possible, huge wind and brass
sections with at least six (but if possible 12) onstage trumpets,
supported by the full weight of the organ.
the light of this it is hardly surprising that the Festival Prelude
has remained an 'occasional piece', impressive and imposing by
virtue of its sheer scale and grandeur. Inevitably it proves so
in this new recording, even if the more powerful passages sound
a little strained. There are abundant compensations, as Zinman
and his enlarged orchestra rise to the challenge this epic work
presents. At the appealing Arte Nova price this remains a more
than useful bargain.