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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Le Bourgeois Gentihomme, op. 60 (1918) [35:36]
Dance Suite after Couperin (1923)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Erich Leinsdorf
rec. 1988
COE RECORDS CD COE 809 [63:25]


Music for Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme preoccupied Strauss for nearly a decade from around 1911. This project was therefore another example of his interest in neo-classicism and the 18th century, taking its place alongside the operas Der Rosenkavalier and Ariadne auf Naxos and, a little later, the Dance Suite after keyboard pieces by Couperin.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme finds the composer at the height of his powers, but in a particular style. Much of the music leans on that of Jean-Baptiste Lully, though Strauss writes more than a mere pastiche. In sum the resources of the 20th century musician breathe a new life into the manner of the 17th century. There are nine movements, some slight and others more substantial. In this 1988 recording Erich Leinsdorf steers an appropriate course through the score, again and again choosing just the right tempo, while allowing the music's clarity of texture to shine through.

The recorded sound is good if not spectacular, and certainly not as refined as the Philips recording by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields at full price. However, Leinsdorf's recording is perfectly acceptable and truthful, nor is the orchestral colouring compromised. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe is an excellent ensemble, fully capable of delivering the level of virtuosity any Strauss score demands. In this sense it seems a pity that the important obbligato roles for violin, cello and, particularly, piano, go uncredited in the booklet. This is poorly designed, since it has extremely small print while at the same time managing to be wasteful of space. 

These are both very attractive scores, full of good tunes, combined with rhythmic appeal and instrumental imagination. The less well known Dance Suite is based on keyboard music by Francois Couperin, and gets off to a most attractive start with one of the latter's finest tunes. It was around the time he composed this music that Strauss met Elgar in London and undertook to orchestrate the Fantasia of Bach's C minor Fantasia and Fugue for organ, while Elgar would orchestrate the Fugue. During their conversation Elgar suggested that the richness and power of the modern full orchestra should be employed, while Strauss admitted he preferred a smaller ensemble more in keeping with the scale of baroque music. 

His preoccupation with his Couperin project meant that Strauss never fulfilled his part of the bargain, leaving Elgar to orchestrate both parts of Bach's organ piece, but the story emphasizes Strauss's artistic priorities as found in his Dance Suite. Erich Leinsdorf was always a notable Strauss conductor, and he coaxes some wonderfully alert laying from his orchestra. The recorded sound allows for maximum clarity but encourages the colourful orchestral textures too. At its appealing price this disc makes a splendid case for these two rewarding if little known masterworks.

Terry Barfoot



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