Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Metamorphosen (1945) [27:40]
Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier (1944) [13:02]
Divertimento, Op. 86 (1941) [35:39]
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Clemens Krauss
rec. 1953-1954, Bavarian Radio studios, Bavaria. ADD
PRISTINE CLASSICAL PASC311 [76:20]

Richard Straussí Metamorphosen is a lengthy free fantasia for twenty-three solo strings. The work is dominated by a haunting theme beginning with four repeated notes, developed by Strauss into a seemingly endless flow of melody. At its climax, the repeated note theme is revealed to be a quotation from the slow movement of the Eroica symphony. The reference to Beethovenís great funeral march makes it clear that Strauss is mourning the destruction of so much of German culture and history in the Second World War. The quotation has the same effect as the Bach reference in the finale of Bergís Violin Concerto, of providing a universal frame for the particular loss the work commemorates. In its thematic and emotional richness Metamorphosen resembles another twentieth century string work that references music from an earlier era, Vaughan Williamsí Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis. Where that piece is celebratory, though, Straussís work has a much more elegiac and tragic character.

Clemens Kraussís relationship with Richard Strauss is attested by the photograph on the cover of the CD insert. In Kraussís capacity as head of the Berlin State Opera he became closely associated with Straussís operas, directing several and providing the libretto for Capriccio. The fact that this performance with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra strings dates from only eight or nine years after Straussí death suggests its authenticity. This recording (like the others on the disc) was sourced from a radio broadcast via a Philips LP disc, and this provenance makes for pretty average sonics, even with Andrew Roseís expert re-mastering. There is heavy surface noise right at the beginning, although this wears off pretty quickly, and some of the strings sound rather metallic, particularly at forte and above. The acoustic is generally boxy, with a rather boomy bass. None of this matters, however, once the performance gets under way. The Bamberg strings play this music with tremendous conviction and urgency, and Krauss keeps expert control of the pulse, managing the transitions very adroitly.
 
Metamorphosen has received some high quality recordings over the years. I got to know this work in John Barbirolliís version with the New Philharmonia, coupled with the Mahler Sixth (available as a Great Recording of the Century Ė see review). A more recent version is with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simone Young (ABC Classics 476 6811). This is a fine performance, coupled with thrilling accounts of the Wagner Wesendonck Lieder and three Strauss lieder with Lisa Gasteen. There is no doubt that this recording makes much more comfortable listening than the earlier one. Nevertheless one would not want to be without the Bamberg performance, which is played as if it really mattered; no doubt in 1953 the enormous destruction wrought by the war was still all too evident.
 
The disc includes Straussís arrangement of waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier, and his seldom heard Divertimento, based on harpsichord pieces by FranÁois Couperin, also played by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Krauss. The Rosenkavalier arrangement opens in bravura fashion, attacked in enthusiastic style by the Bamberg orchestra. The woodwind parts are nicely forward in the following section, and Krauss adroitly varies the pacing until the slightly feverish gaiety of the finale. The upper strings sound a bit constrained occasionally, and there is a trace of distortion on some of the upper wind parts, but the recording is much more comfortable than in Metamorphosen.
 
The Divertimento, Op. 86, is quite a lengthy work, running to more than half an hour. Straussí arrangements of FranÁois Couperinís harpsichord pieces make no pretence at historical authenticity, being rather a kind of faux-Rococo fantasy with occasional excursions via Hollywood. Those who enjoy Canteloubeís Songs of the Auvergne or Respighiís Ancient Airs and Dances, however, will have no problem with this work. After beginning with a rather heavy French overture, Straussí arrangements have a lightness of touch which preserves the liveliness and wit of the originals, in spirit if not in sonority. In Les Fauvetts Plaintives and the final pairing of Les Brimborions - La Badine, the Baroque harmonies are spiced up with some chromatic Straussian touches. The Bamberg Orchestra plays this work with expertise and affection. But Metamorphosen is a hard act to follow, and I am surprised that the works were not presented in the reverse order - although that is easily achieved with the program feature of oneís CD player. Perhaps Pristine wanted to finish with the best recording, and Rosenkavalier and the Serenade are certainly much easier to listen to, with a rather wetter-sounding acoustic than Metamorphosen.
 
The performances on this disc have real authority and total commitment, and more than make up for the rather variable sound quality.
 
Guy Aron



Real authority and total commitment if rather variable sound quality.