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Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
Don Quixote Op.35 (1897)
Romance in F major for cello and Orchestra, Op.13 (1883)
Serenade in E Flat major for 13 Wind Instruments, Op.7 (1882)
Thomas Grossenbacher (cello), Michel Rouilly (viola)
Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich/David Zinman.
Rec. Tonhalle, Zurich 6 Jan, 2000 (Serenade); 10-11 Feb 2003 (Don Quixote and Romance). DDD
ARTE NOVA 74321 98496-2 [59.05]


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This Arte Nova series of Strauss recordings, of which the current disc is Volume 7, has been receiving glowing reviews in the musical press so I approached this disc with keen anticipation. It is the first I have heard in this budget priced series. I was not disappointed. All three works are played with a sensitivity that is quite rare in this day and age. Also, the whole of Arte Nova’s production is absolutely beyond criticism, what with full recording details, total list of participants, both in the orchestra for each work, plus the technical team and short, but none the less informative, notes about both works and artists. All of this at a budget price. It proves it can be done, and other manufacturers should sit up and take note. This is a disc that puts many full price issues to shame.

So what about the artistic merit of the performances. David Zinman and his beautiful sounding orchestra have the full measure of these famous and not so well known works of Richard Strauss. There is a glow to the acoustic captured by the recording, which enhances the orchestral palette, and increases our enjoyment without there being excessive echo to cloud the detail.

My over-riding impression of this performance was that of gentleness. In other words there are none of the big gestures of the Herbert von Karajan variety, nor the range of orchestral colours brought into play by the Berlin Philharmonic. Another performance of Don Quixote which I have been listening to recently is that of a live relay given in October 1967 by the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. Here, as you might expect, the Don is picked up by the scruff of the neck and hung out to dry. It is about as far removed from David Zinman’s performance as can be imagined. It is no less relevant but shows very clearly how orchestral styles of playing have changed over the thirty year period.

From 1897 onwards, Strauss was considered to have entered his mature phase and was considered to be the most famous composer of symphonic tone poems n existence. With Don Quixote, he surpassed himself, for not only is it a symphonic tone poem, it is also a concerto with the Don being assigned to the cello and Sancho Panza the viola, euphonium and bass clarinet. Most of the elements of Cervantes’ story are covered as separate elements in the work. Each of these is separately banded on the disc, thus allowing us to follow the action easily. Arte Nova’s production is excellent as at every turn there is an element which has been thought of to make the listener’s experience that much better.

The two other works on the disc are relatively early; almost student works. The Serenade for Winds shows Strauss’s mastery of the wind colouring, even at such an early age. Hans von Bülow, who originally thought that some of Strauss’s early compositions were immature and precocious, and that the composer was "no genius…but at best talented", was very impressed with the Wind Serenade. He supported the first performance of the work, given by the Dresden Court orchestra. As a result, von Bülow commissioned another Serenade from Strauss - his later Suite for Winds Op. 4.

The Romance for Cello and Orchestra, which is an early work, certainly doesn’t sound early, showing as it does a mastery of dealing with the material. It is superbly played and I enjoyed it very much. Highly recommended.

John Phillips

 

 



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