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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Music for Wind Instruments, Volume 1.

Sonatina in E flat, AV143, ‘Fröhliche Werkstatt’ (1943) [39’38]. Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 (arr. Carp) (1895) [15’47].
Ensemble Villa Musica
Rec. Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen on June 22nd, 1998 (Sonatina) and November 8th-9th, 2002 (Op. 28). DDD

Strauss’s own comment at the end of his E flat Sonatina, AV143, says it all: ‘Happy workshop. To the … divine Mozart at the end of a life filled with gratitude’. Strauss’s tribute to the earlier composer of so many inspired Divertimenti is clear. Also, the fluency of composition and the evident joy in contentment that shines through every note speaks, indeed, of a happy workplace.

That said, this Sonatina does not quite represent the autumnal serenity (an altogether stronger word than ‘contentment’) that Strauss showed in, say, the Oboe Concerto, even in its Andantino (marked also ‘sehr gemächlich’: very leisurely, and played with gorgeous instrumental interplay here by the Ensemble Villa Musica). Rather, it is uplifting chamber music of the highest order. The opening Allegro con brio is jolly, busy and echt-Straussian. There is plenty of energy in the Ensemble Villa Musica’s playing: they project a youthful vigour and enthusiasm. A special mention should go to the first bassoonist for some lovely contributions.

If the Menuett does not bring a smile to your face, it is time to reach for the Prozac. It is only in the finale (the longest movement, at 16’14) that Strauss becomes a little verbose. The melodrama of the Andante introduction comes across well, however.

David M. Carp’s arrangement of Till Eulenspiegel for wind quintet and piano is an intriguing curio. No substitute for the original, of course, but it will nevertheless bring much joy (and not a few raised eyebrows: the very opening phrase is for unaccompanied piano!). The horn call survives intact (the wonderful Frank Lloyd does the honours here, and he is magnificent - rock-solid over the wide range required, pedal notes equally as full as those in the higher register). Heard in this incarnation, Till’s comedic-dramatic side comes easily and naturally to the fore: in fact, he seems a true Germanic commedia dell’arte figure!. There is a real sense of fun, not to mention pure cheek: pecking oboe (Ingo Goritzki) and clarinet (Ulf Roderhäuser) and capricious flute (Jean-Claude Gérard) provide much delight along the way.

True, some moments cannot be compensated for: the piano’s substitution for the solo violin’s scalic descent hardly works in the same way (5’12); similarly, the piano’s role as ominous ‘executioner’ is very obviously a reduction. Nevertheless, the climax is exciting, simply because of the sheer amount going on simultaneously.

For a long time the Netherlands Wind Ensemble under Edo de Waart has held sway as far as the Sonatina is concerned (Philips Duo 438 733-2). This new version provides a viable and thoroughly enjoyable alternative. Volume 2 is to be eagerly awaited.

Colin Clarke

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