for Molière’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.
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
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.
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 François
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.
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.