It seems strange that
the items on this twofer (actually most
of them) listed as 'live' have recording
dates that span several days and the
only 'studio' recording was put down
in one day. Whatever the case, this
is a triumph for Schwarz and his Liverpudlians.
I admit to a certain amount of trepidation
on receiving this set, but the sheer
quality of performance and recording
has made me eat my words.
The recording is actually
quite close and as such is remarkably
detailed. Most importantly, as one embarks
on the domestic voyage, it becomes clear
there is an echt-Straussian feel to
it all, the strings warm, Schwarz's
response to the score ever natural.
Orchestral soloists are excellent –
try the agile, spiky oboe that begins
the Scherzo, for example. The 'Wiegenlied'
has a shadowy tenderness, yet these
are not menacing shadows – more that
the section is heard as if through a
veil of finest lace. Schwarz paces the
Adagio fourth section so that it moves
but is still warm. Impressive in its
passion, it moves to even more passionate
territory – that of the finale. It is
a tribute to the recording that even
the most cacophonous climax makes sense,
and there is no impression at any time
of any loss of detail.
The layout of this
set is such that each disc contains
a major orchestral work plus a concerto.
The late oboe concerto is of course
much loved - and much beloved of players
of the ilk of Holliger, of course. In
context, Jonathan Small's pastoral pipings
are simply perfect and come in superb
contrast after the stresses and strains
of 'sweet' domesticity. Schwarz shapes
the accompaniment with the utmost sensitivity
and here and in the Andante before the
high spirits of the finale, round off
a thoroughly enjoyable account.
The Alpine Symphony
is a great orchestral showpiece and
a virtuoso display of Strauss's pictorial
abilities. The movement titles are given
in English first in the booklet, by
the way, then in German, then French.
Taking on the likes of Karajan is a
daunting task, but the Liverpudlians
emerge intact. Indeed if some of the
characterisation were to have been made
just a notch more vivid, this might
have approached a first recommendation.
The arrival of Sunrise makes its point,
but it is not absolutely together and
not too revelatory – the Sunset is far
more effective. Schwarz paces the work
expertly, enabling climaxes to rise
naturally. The off-stage horns are distanced
further away than is the norm, but that
is all to the good.
This time the 'concerto'
(actually the fun Duett-Concertino)
emerges out of the Symphony. Late Strauss
through and through, in this work Nicholas
Cox's creamy clarinet seems just right.
Dialogues, buffo in origin, between
the soloists are a consistent delight.
There is some magical bassoon playing
from Alan Pendlebury in the all-too-brief
slow movement before some very alive
solo playing illuminates the finale.
Notes by Michael Kennedy
are exemplary. What an advert for the
RLPO this set is! The cultural life
of Liverpool is clearly thriving ...