This is the sort of project that walks a very
fine line between an original and innovative work of art, and
a big sales gimmick. After viewing this pictorial setting of Strauss’s
massive tone poem-cum-symphony, I have come to the conclusion
that it is a bit of both.
Let us begin with the music. The Alpine Symphony
began life in 1911. Entries from Strauss’s diary indicate that
he intended for this work to be the Antichrist, not in
the Christian Fundamentalist sense of the word, rather, in the
Nietzschean vein, where organized religion is abandoned in favor
of finding the divine in unspoiled nature. It is an ambitious
work indeed, fifty-four minutes divided into twenty-two different
scenes or events as the observer ascends the mountain and encounters
both its wonders and its dangers. It requires an orchestra of
over one hundred players and calls for such effects as wind and
Evocative? Yes. Breathtaking? At times. Ostentatious
and Pretentious? Definitely.
Regardless, there is much to love about the work,
and this performance by Zürich’s Tonhalle Orchestra is very
fine indeed. David Zinman does an excellent job of keeping the
score’s over-the-top elements fairly at bay. He and his orchestra
give us a performance that is well paced, and tastefully non-indulgent.
The Tonhalle’s string section is a shimmering wonder, and the
oft-utilized brass play with conviction and authority without
ever being overbearing. Zinman brings out all of the myriad details
in this complicated score to great effect, an effect that is enhanced
greatly by the stunning array of photographs by musician turned
photographer, Tobias Melle.
Melle spent more than three years taking photographs
in the Berchtesgaden Alps, the Bavarian portion of which is a
national park. Receiving a rare permit to camp and photograph
freely in the park, Melle was able to capture on film all of the
scenes described in music by Strauss, and to wondrous effect.
His pictures are stunningly beautiful.
What is left to ponder is whether this Sierra
Club quality slide show set to music bears repeated viewing. Further,
one must question whether or not the photographic montage would
work in a live concert setting. My conclusion in the first regard
is more than a couple of showings and this film, beautiful as
it is, would wear thin. After all, who wants to see someone’s
vacation photos more than once? As for a live performance, unless
the conductor replicated Zinman’s tempi down to the second, the
risk of unsynchronized photos would be very great. It is most
evident that the photographs were timed to the music, and not
the other way round.
Nevertheless, we have a fine performance of the
work, if you can take hearing it more than once or twice a year.
And if the pictures get old, you can turn off the television and
simply listen to the music. As for the sound quality, I thought
that the recording was a bit heavy on the treble end, and could
have used more warmth and richness.
The program notes are elementary, and offer little
insight into composer or composition. Frankly, I found them to
be a good deal too self-congratulatory to be relevant. Picture
quality is astonishing.
And so, a mixed review. If you find this for
rent, then definitely drop the two or three bucks (or pounds or
euros, as it were) and enjoy it. Purchase recommended for diehards
or technophiles who get their jollies from showing off their home