seems sad somehow to sit down and pen this review in the
aftermath of recent announcements about Decca, one of the
great names in recording history. True the inspiration
of Australian Eloquence has done much to revive areas of
their back catalogue - this to the delight of many older
collectors - with the judicious re-issue of classic material
that Universal seemed unwilling to let out of its clutches.
The recordings are marked by sound artistic judgement coupled
with vivid yet ingratiating sound technology.
colleagues elsewhere in these pages have been delighted,
I know, by the re-appearance - indeed appearance
some cases - on CD of delights from the likes of Ansermet,
Kertesz, Masur and Mehta ... to name just the conductors
who have particularly benefited. And if the present issue
doesn’t perhaps quite fall into the category of unmitigated “delight”,
I have nevertheless derived much pleasure from it.
over the two discs span almost 40 years – from Maazel’s
mid-1960s Sofiensaal “Gentilhomme” to Thibaudet and Blomstedt’s “Burleske” from
2004. Even so, sound quality - as often with this label
- despite different acoustics and production teams gives
are a little more variable. Ashkenazy seems a little “plush” in Aus
. There doesn’t seem to be the incisiveness,
youthful twinkle ... and, yes, sheer love and affection
that I detect in Clemens Krauss’s interpretation - at least
not through the medium of my ancient Eclipse pseudo-stereo
LP (ECS 610). This is another Decca outing, although on
this occasion with the VPO from the early 1950s. Indeed
my colleague Gerald Fenech seems to agree – witness his
review dealing with the mono CD re-issue of the performance
on Testament (SBT1185
last movement, “Neapolitanisches Volksleben” for example,
is given with such rollicking good humour by Krauss that
it sounds as though Strauss was perfectly aware of the
origins of his “folksong” – and frankly couldn’t give a
damn. As it happens “Funiculi Funicula” had been composed
by Luigi Denza ... and he was not amused by Strauss’s use
of it; indeed he subsequently sued.
said I shouldn’t ignore some fine playing from the Clevelanders,
who sound particularly relaxed and luxuriant in the third
movement “Am Strande von Sorrent”, the section of the score
which seems to suit the team’s approach best. Initially
I also thought the sound too “upholstered”, but re-hearing
dispelled this view. The venue incidentally is not the
more frequently used and somewhat dry Severance Hall, but
the more generous acoustic of the Masonic Auditorium.
Italien” forms the bulk of Disc 2, the first CD concerns
itself with concertante works, which come from either end
of Strauss’s career.
Bülow called the “Burleske” unplayable, and despite my
love of Strauss I must admit to not having heard it for
a while. I thoroughly enjoyed Thibaudet’s traversal; plenty
of wit and point and a technique more than capable of coping
with Strauss’s coruscating pianism. It may be, to quote
Tim Ashley - one of Strauss’ biographers - “a colossal
joke”, but it’s one which here is dispatched with both
feeling and aplomb.
the Oboe Concerto and Duet-Concertino are products of the
composer’s last years. The former was written for American
GI John de Lancie - a Pittsburgh Symphony player pre-war
- whom Strauss got to know in Garmisch immediately following
the end of hostilities. Although he didn’t premiere it
in the end, he did secure exclusive US performance rights – which
in itself must have given him great delight. Up to now
I have particularly enjoyed the performances by Simon Fuchs
and the Zurich Tonhalle (Arte Nova 74321
, 7 discs including the Tone Poems and miscellaneous
fillers), as well as Manfred Clement and the Dresden Staatskapelle
with Rudolf Kempe (the classic 3 disc EMI collection, forming
Volume 1 of the orchestral music, 7 64342 2). True, their
hegemony remains undisturbed, but Hunt and Ashkenazy nevertheless
prove to be very creditable.
I have even more affection for the Duet-Concertino, which
a recent local music society presentation by Jonathan Burton
- brother of Anthony and Humphrey - what a talented family!
- only enhanced. True Jonathan used the classic recording
by Manfred Weise and Wolfgang Liebscher under Kempe (as
detailed above), where Weise’s first entry is quite heavenly,
but as the work progressed I felt Dmitri Ashkenazy and
Kim Walker entered the fantasy spirit of the piece even
more strongly. Although Strauss never confirmed any extra-musical
meaning he certainly hinted that Hans Christian Andersen’s
tale “The Swineherd”, featuring a princess (clarinet) and
a bear (bassoon), had provided inspiration. In the end
I thought the more recent recording shaded it.
only leaves the oldest recording of the five, Maazel’s
Sofiensaal account of “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme”.
had the Moliere-inspired success of Der Rosenkavalier
and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal decided to return
to the author for further inspiration. Their target was “Le
Bourgeois Gentilhomme”, or in their native tongue, “Der
Burger als Edelmann”, with a view to the resulting work
acting as a prelude to their new opera “Ariadne auf Naxos”.
the resultant arguments and shelving of the project - Ariadne
precedence - Strauss did not forget about the work altogether.
He returned to it in 1917 composing extra numbers to accompany
performances of the play. Alas Hofmannsthal nagged him
again about an opera at which point Strauss’s patience
failed and he withdrew – although never one to waste effort
he rescued his music and published a nine movement suite
Virgin, back in 1997, issued a fascinating set with “Gentilhomme” -
complete with dialogue - in tandem with the original “Ariadne” of
1912 (that’s another story !), and based on a production
at Lyon (7243-5-45111-2-7), most people, if they know the
work at all, will be familiar with the suite. The love
and affection for the music I found missing in the Cleveland “Aus
Italien” I found in abundance here. This isn’t great music
but the Vienna Phil really sound as though they care
it. Listen to cellist Emanuel Brabec’s phrasing of his
solo in “Le Diner” and you’ll understand what I mean.
disadvantages? Only two; from time to time the VPO has
sported a rather acidulous oboe sound – and this was one
such period. Also, having star pianist Friedrich Gulda
on hand it seems Gordon Parry and Erik Smith couldn’t resist
a bit of spotlighting, so the piano is rather writ large.
Still, I can’t say either factor worried me overmuch.
then, a mixed bag, but with enough delights to make a very
worthwhile issue. Meanwhile, Eloquence has issued other
Strauss combinations recently. Look out for them. My guess
is they’ll be equally worth acquiring.
see also review by Patrick Lam