Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ein Heldenleben (1899) [41:09] ¹
Der Rosenkavalier (1911) – suite arr. Antal Doráti [25:15] ²
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Antal Doráti ¹
Philadelphia Orchestra/Antal Doráti ²
rec. December 1952, Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis (Ein Heldeleben); July 1950, Philadelphia (Der Rosenkavalier)

These restorations pack quite a punch. I’m not sure, not having access to the original issues, to what extent a dose of Andrew Rose’s XR has engorged things, if I can put it like that. But both these performances do sound terrific, whatever the state of play. The suite from Rosenkavalier was not Strauss’s own work – it was that of the conductor of the performance, Antal Doráti who directed the ‘Robin Hood Dell Orchestra’, the satiric soubriquet for the ‘holidaying’ Philadelphians. The suite lasts twenty-five minutes and is delightfully stitched together. The orchestra sounds like it’s having fun; not only that but corporate virtuosity is very much on the agenda. Listen to the horns in particular as they flare quite spectacularly. Rhythms are taut, as one would expect from a magician of the ballet such as this conductor, and the taut, tight corners are counter-balanced by some giddy string tone and lusciously evocative playing. It makes you want to get up and dance.

This was taped in 1950. Two years later the conductor led the Minneapolis Symphony in an equally splendid Heldenleben. This has previously escaped the CD restorer’s art – and it goes to show how many superb performances by even well known artists are lying around waiting to be rescued. It was made for Mercury and preserves a reading of tremendous vitality and rich cantabile, forceful contours but sympathetic pacing; in fact a splendid all-round traversal, lacking for little in virtuosity. The strings are lithe and layered, the brass strong. The percussion leads dramatically from The Hero to the Adversaries where we find, variously, flute and oboe and lower brass equally attentive. Rafael Druian is the concertmaster and he plays with all his characteristic style, rhythmic buoyancy and tonal allure. He’s not noted on the disc – he should be – but is duly noted on Pristine’s website, though his many admirers will know of his relatively long tenure with this orchestra.

The pathos of the score is well brought out, as are the ‘off-stage’ trumpets. The Battle is vicious and kinetic and turbulent and there’s some succulent string tone in the Hero’s Retreat. Perhaps there’s not quite the last ounce of top-to-bottom strengths but the performance is a thoroughly worthy addition to the ranks of historical performances of this work.

The origin of this Heldenleben is the archive of the Antal Doráti Centenary Edition. It makes for a vital and sweeping disc.

Jonathan Woolf