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Seen & Heard
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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64 (1911-1915) [50:24]
Songs, AV 150 (1948) [20:16] *
rec. 21-23 May, 2007, Lukaskirche Dresden, Germany. DDD
88697 141972 [70:39]
This is the third release in a projected cycle of Strauss’s
orchestral works by the Dresden Staatskapelle
under its new Music Director and principal conductor, Fabio
Luisi. It contains the much-recorded Four
Last Songs coupled with the less often-heard, but no
less magical, Alpine Symphony from 35 years earlier
in Strauss’s life.
has a lot to live up to: Strauss himself had a long and fruitful
relationship with the Dresden orchestra and his own collaboration
was followed by that of such eminent conductors as Busch,
Böhm, Kempe and Sinopoli. Luisi has recorded Ein
Heldenleben and Metamorphosen in Dresden (Sony
88697 084712 - see review);
the same label’s Don
Quixote is on SK
it is to be expected that the orchestra that premièred nine
of Strauss’s operas and with whom the composer had a strong
personal and professional relationship for 60 years would
make a real splash when turning to new recording ventures
under its new conductor. That is certainly the case with Ein
Heldenleben and Metamorphosen: splendid accounts
both. None of these performances, however, is overly spectacular.
Rather, very accomplished and even.
fact, that distance which is necessary truly to bring out
the spirit of these lush orchestral compositions is evident
on this recording of the Four Last Songs and the Alpine
Symphony too. These are melodious, sensitive, immensely
beautiful interpretations. They make their impact more through
persuasion than spectacle. The dynamic is never overdone,
the orchestral tone is subtle and clean. The paces are moderate
yet at the same time exciting and compelling.
soprano - Strauss’s favourite ‘instrument’ - is dramatic
and commanding without being either maudlin or mournful.
Luisi has superb interpretative and conceptual control over
his highly responsive forces throughout this 70-minute SACD.
The pauses are right; the parts taken by soloists well executed;
the beauty of the music shines through; the scene painting
is not intrusive; the forward movement is convincing yet
never suggests rush. These are performances which consistently
present you with some new aspect of the score and which you
wish would not end, no matter how well you know the music!
The Alpine Symphony was first conducted
by Strauss and the ‘Dresdeners’ in
1915. It was written with them in mind; almost as if a ‘thank
you’ for their successful premières of Salome, Elektra and Rosenkavalier.
It’s a massive score requiring at least 125 musicians and
is operatic in conception and impact. The Alpine
Symphony is the apotheosis of the composer’s tone-poem
technique. It’s probable that the piece was inspired at least
in part by a single 12-hour trek that Strauss had taken as
a child – during which he got lost! Yet it goes beyond programme
music and the evocation of landscape and ‘atmospheric phenomena’ to
be something of tight inner structure and great beauty – not
only as themes and textures re-appear; but also as the melodies
unfold with an effect in almost inverse proportion to the
bluster with which a lesser composer would have approached
Fabio Luisi makes it plain that he sees the Alpine Symphony less
as a ‘photographic’ representation of nature; more as a series
of impressions. There is an ethereal and objective distancing
between Strauss and his subject which these musicians throw
into as sharp a relief as on any currently available recording.
Last Songs famously carry the listener with them for
their sheer beauty and poignancy, regardless of how well
they are actually performed. Almost. It still needs a soprano
of sensitivity, directness and restraint to avoid the mawkish
and jejune. It’s then that the poetry is at its best.
not commanding the heights of a Della
Casa or a Schwarzkopf, Harteros sings
with conviction and expressiveness. She draws on pathos,
and is attentive to nuance and the sheer force of the songs.
Significantly, she gives each song its due: Strauss never
intended them to be grouped as a cycle. Above all, perhaps,
singer and orchestra bring out the widest-ranging application
of the music – to life. Not just to nature, to love, to social
regret. These are songs about all human experience. And its
inevitable, resigned end. Without lingering or chafing, lamenting
or self-indulgence, Harteros and the Dresdeners smile, and
bow gently to the inevitability of death. A humbling performance
because this is how Strauss himself surely felt.
recording on the Sony SACD is outstanding, the acoustic clean
and communicative and the commentary in the accompanying
booklet useful if a little hard to read in places: poor choice
of background and foreground colours. This is a CD to treasure
and can be safely recommended as a frontrunner in the repertoire.
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