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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Complete Welte recordings of 1906:

Salome – fragments [3.37]
Salome – Dance of the Seven Veils [8.54]
Ein Heldenleben – Love Scene [3.51]
Feuersnot – Love Scene [5.37]
Stimmungsbilder (Mood Pictures) Op 9: No.1 [4.01]; No,2 [3.10]; No.3 [3.40]; No.4 [2.38]
Cäcilie Op.27 No.2
Heimliche Aufforderung Op.27 No.3 [2.32]
Richard Strauss (piano)
Recorded for Welte-Mignon in 1906; played for CD recording in 2004.
TACET 137 [40.27]

People often say that music can transport you to another time and place. More than a bit of that has been going on here, being entertained as I have by Dr Richard Strauss’s piano playing for the past couple of nights. The question of whether he travelled forward to my time or I back to his is still something up for debate. The much brandished booklet claim that "This is not an historical recording" is of course only partially true – but it’s no doubt there to make you realise that this isn’t 40 minutes worth of hiss and distortion accompanied by the occasionally audible note.

Tacet is not the only CD label to have reissued recordings made for the company of M. Welte and Sons in Frieburg between the years of 1904 and 1932. Naxos has issued a couple of discs on their Historical label, but up to now the most interesting has been an Intercord release: INT 860.855, recorded in 1985. This featured composers playing their own works: Grieg, Mahler (who has to be heard to be believed!), Skriabin, Saint-Saëns, Reger, Ravel, Debussy – and Strauss, there playing the Dance of the Seven Veils and the Mood Picture no. 3. The Intercord disc has long ceased to be available, but it is interesting to note that the same team is responsible for this Tacet release – to a great extent reproducing the same liner notes, with one or two additions to bring things up to date. Also worth noting is a release on the Dal Segno label (DSPRCD 010) issued this month (November 2005) that features a few of the recordings that occur here (Salome items and Mood Picture no. 1).

Tacet’s claim that this release improves somewhat upon the results achieved by earlier competitors, notably Intercord, can be borne out when hearing the two in comparison. Tacet’s does indeed seem steadier in terms of holding the tempo throughout the piece, but in the end there is little in it.

To today’s ears the selection of recorded pieces could seem strange, but the choices most likely came out of what was popular at the time. The Salome extracts are curious, the Dance of the Seven Veils too also because of a slight leaden quality that creeps into the left hand playing that cannot be truly indicative of Strauss’s true skills. The Heldenleben extract is moderately more successful in playing terms as is the one drawn from Feuersnot, although I don’t care for the music itself that much in the latter case. The two songs are surprising in the perfunctory performances they receive. Too indulgent a singer would get a rude awakening with Strauss as accompanist – although here his playing inevitably weaves between both parts. Most successful by far are the Mood Pictures, played here with real feeling – so that one might imagine being On The Silent Forest Path (no.1), or beside The Lonely Waters (no. 2). The piano used throughout I found perfectly acceptable, as is the recording.

As a complete presentation of Strauss’s available Welte-Mignon recordings this is an important document that should sit alongside his recordings as a conductor. Good too that a lesser known quartet of works outshines bleeding chunks drawn from larger musical canvases. Most enthusiastically recommended.

Evan Dickerson

see also review by Jonathan Woolf



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