This is a re-mastered re-release of material from the early
days of digital recording and before. The Holliger/Gielen works
come from a 1984 Vox Cum Laude/Conifer CD (MCD 10006), although
the Strauss Concerto also appeared on Regis a decade ago (review).
The remaining Strauss items come, most latterly, from a Vox
double disc shared with Schubert's Ninth Symphony (CD2X
5140). For all the excitement of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's
performances under Thomas Schippers, these recordings, dating
back to 1976, shortly before Schippers' untimely death,
are okay rather than brilliant. They’re slightly flat, somewhat
undefined in the higher registers, and, in the Rosenkavalier
sequences - those made by Strauss himself, by the way - subject
to occasional minor technical blips in places. For example,
about one third of the way through the shorter of the two there
is a momentary jolt and then an editing join, discreet but not
quite discreet enough.
Sound quality is considerably better in the digital recordings,
especially after having been rejuvenated by Paul Arden-Taylor's
re-mastering. It must be said, however, that the digital manipulation
is not without after-effect - this is more top-end mp3 sound
than lossless. Holliger gives a splendid performance, if slightly
reticent perhaps, in the Strauss Concerto, which dates from
the same time as his better-known Metamorphosen, and is as lyrically
nostalgic as that work is opulently desolate. Lutoslawski's
Concerto is a different thing altogether, and with its frequent
modernistic turns and techniques - including dodecaphony, atonality,
aleatoricism - makes for a strange companion piece: in fact,
the front cover billing almost makes it seem like an afterthought-cum-filler.
Nevertheless, it is a thrilling, compelling work, one of the
finest concertos of the 20th century for oboe. There is probably
nothing written for that instrument that is so difficult that
Holliger could not play it in his sleep, and so it proves here,
but at least Lutoslawski gets his money's worth out of
him and his wife Ursula, who provides brilliant obbligato accompaniment.
By coincidence, this Alto re-packaging was released at almost
the same time as another reading of the Lutoslawski, a tremendous
account by Nicholas Daniel and Lucy Wakeford on CD Accord, volume
3 in that label's excellent complete works of Lutoslawski
series - see review.
Given the fact that these recordings are not as good as they
could be, Alto might have made some amends by providing more
information about the works and recordings. For example, absent
are opus/catalogue numbers, dates and places of recordings,
an unambiguous reference to their original source, the composition
date of Till Eulenspiegel. Both Concertos, furthermore, might
at least have been spliced into separate tracks for each movement.
On the other hand, the booklet notes are new, and make for very
good reading, and the CD itself gives almost the full eighty
minutes. All in all, at a relatively knockdown price (£5.99
post-free in the UK and EU on MusicWeb International, for example)
this may still be worth consideration, at least for the two
recordings featuring Holliger.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk