Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Oboe Concerto (1945) [24:15]
*Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche, op.28 (1895) [15:01]
*Der Rosenkavalier - 'First' Waltz Sequence (1944) [11:32]
*Der Rosenkavalier - Second Waltz Sequence (1911) [8:17]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Concerto, for oboe, harp and chamber orchestra (1979-80) [19:26]
Heinz Holliger (oboe); Ursula Holliger (harp)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Michael Gielen; *Thomas Schippers
rec. 11 April 1983. *1976. No venues given. DDD. *ADD.
ALTO ALC 1134 [78:56]
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.
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Thrilling and compelling.