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Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Eine Alpensinfonie Op. 64, (1915)
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)

Orchestral excerpts from Götterdämmerung, (1876):
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey
Siegfried’s Funeral March
Brunhilde’s Immolation Scene

Bavarian State Opera Orchestra/Franz Konwitschny.
Recorded 1952 in Munich. ADD
URANIA URN 22.247 [65.02]


This recording has been around in collector’s shops for a number of years. Konwitschny fans will surely celebrate Urania’s releasing of it, at long last, on CD. Konwitschny recordings have been rather thin on the ground of late, with many of the ex-Edel recordings having been deleted. The Beethoven symphony cycle with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is a prime example.

The change in Strauss interpretations over the years has been staggering. This is almost a period performance of Richard Strauss. It reminds me vaguely of the kind of Strauss performance that Willem Mengelberg used to give of this composer with the Concertgebouw in the 1940s: tremendous drive and commitment together with highly rehearsed sweeps and swoons in the strings.

Konwitschny spent most of his career in Eastern Europe with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Czech Philharmonic, Dresden Staatskapelle and the East Berlin ensembles. It is hardly surprising then that his recordings are less common here than those by other conductors who made substantial careers on the Western side of the Iron Curtain. Urania are to be mightily praised for releasing this marvellous performance. Can it compete with other performances? Perhaps not sonically, but certainly musically, and any fans of Richard Strauss or this conductor should certainly try to hear this performance.

He galvanises his Munich orchestra into keenly committed playing of this most complex of Strauss scores, and manages not to turn it into a cinematic experience. It is treated like a piece of music, and so we progress through the score, hearing details that often are lost in the wash of sound produced by some of the competition.

The string tone of the orchestra is first class and conveys Strauss’s sound world very well indeed. Anyone who has owned the original Urania LP is in for a mighty shock. Gone is the dim scratchy sound, and whilst I would not try to convince anyone that this sounds like a modern recording, the improvement is staggering. After the first few moments, the recording sound quality is no longer an issue, and the performance can be enjoyed in its own right.

The Wagner items are equally enjoyable except that these pieces are taken out of context and some music lovers may find this a turn-off. Konwitschny’s Wagner is well known from a Supraphon disc with the Czech Philharmonic, issued a few years ago. These performances are similar in nature, and there is no duplication involved.

There is no discernible difference in the recording quality of these pieces compared with the Richard Strauss main item. The performances are revelatory – played absolutely straight with no attempt at "interpretation". The Bavarian Opera Orchestra are obviously in their element here. I enjoyed this disc very much indeed. There is an atmosphere of the Opera House about these short pieces, and I was left wishing that they had recorded the whole of Götterdämmerung, and not just these short items.

John Phillips

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