For this new recording of Don Quixote
Hyperion has brought
together two of its brightest instrumental stars, Alban Gerhardt and
Lawrence Power. The conductor and orchestra are new to the label,
I think; so far as I’m aware Markus Stenz and the Gürzenich-Orchester
Köln are here making their Hyperion debut. Their involvement
in this project is especially fitting since this orchestra gave the
first performance of the work in 1898 and, indeed, the première
of Till Eulenspiegel
in 1895, as Michael Kennedy points out
in his excellent booklet note.
Before discussing the performance I think it’s worth saying
something about the recorded sound. I’ve reviewed all the issues
to date in the Mahler cycle that Stenz and the orchestra have issued
on the Oehms label and on occasion I’ve been mildly critical.
The Oehms recordings have been balanced fairly closely - though not
oppressively so - and comparisons with some competing recordings have
suggested that in obtaining clarity Oehms has sacrificed a bit of
natural concert hall perspective. That’s not the case here.
The Hyperion recording reports all the detail you could wish for yet
there’s also a satisfying perspective depth. I was interested
to see that the engineer for this Hyperion disc is Jens Schünemann
who has been the producer for all those Oehms discs. On this occasion
he’s working with producer, Andrew Keener, who has been responsible
for countless previous discs for Hyperion. The recording venues are
different: the Mahler discs were all made in Cologne’s Philharmonie
and that may well account for some of the difference in sound.
The readings are very fine. Right from the start of Don Quixote
in the Introduction, Markus Stenz lays out Strauss’s teeming,
inventive and colourful score with fine attention to detail. There’s
also good characterisation - as, for instance, in the lovely oboe
solo. In short, Stenz conducts this opening extremely well and this
proves to be a harbinger of what’s to follow. The Don and Sancho
Panza announce themselves characterfully (tracks 2-3 respectively)
and I’m almost inclined to say that Lawrence Power makes marginally
the stronger first impression. Once we’ve met the two principal
characters they’re off on their hare-brained adventures.
The sheep at which the Don mistakenly tilts his lance are sharply
profiled (track 5). Following that ‘skirmish’ the dialogue
between the Don and Panza is very well done (track 6). Hereabouts
the Don is represented by the solo violin and Torsten Janicke, the
orchestra’s leader, is in fine fettle. There’s just the
right amount of querulousness in the exchanges between master and
servant and once they’ve ended their bickering the rhapsodic
development of the Dulcinea theme (track 6 from 3:43) is sumptuously
Alban Gerhardt really comes into his own with the Vigil episode (track
8). The Don’s ruminations are eloquently done and Gerhardt receives
splendid support from the orchestra, chiefly from the cello section
and the harp. The Ride through the Air (track 10) is one of my favourite
passages in the work because it shows off to such great effect the
composer’s virtuosity in handling a huge orchestra. The Cologne
orchestra delivers it superbly. After sundry other alarums and excursions
the Don’s retirement from the field of chivalry and his return
home is movingly portrayed by Strauss; Gerhardt and the orchestra
do this passage extremely well (track 13). Finally, Gerhardt excels
in the portrayal of the Don reminiscing in old age. Here, in the autumn
of life, something that Strauss was always so adept at portraying
in music, even as a relatively young man, the music is dignified and
touching and the performance mirrors that very well: in fact, the
orchestral sound in these closing pages is glowing.
This is an excellent account of Don Quixote
. The catalogue
isn’t exactly short of fine recordings but this one competes
with the best. Gerhardt and Power are marvellous principals but they
manage to project their characters splendidly while giving us a sense
also that they are primus inter pares
, as Strauss intended.
This is not
a double concerto and there’s no sense of
that here with Stenz and his orchestra making as strong a contribution
as do the two principal soloists.
I wonder what the Gürzenich-Orchester of 1895 made of Till
Their modern day counterparts take all its difficulties
in their stride as they do also its demands for characterisation.
At times this piece strikes me as Strauss’s ‘Tom &
Jerry’ work with its broad, helter-skelter humour. Stenz and
his players give a fine and entertaining account of it, bringing to
life, for example, the pandemonium of the market place episode. The
trial and execution of Till is vividly portrayed as well: there’s
no mercy for the wheedling clarinet yet, as Michael Kennedy observes,
in the closing pages Strauss convinces us that Till was a lovable
rogue. The playing throughout this performance is excellent with special
praise being due for the woodwind and horn sections.
So, despite the rather short playing time there’s a great deal
to commend this disc. As the icing on the cake, as well as top class
playing and sound, there’s the booklet note by Michael Kennedy.
I find his notes are always a pleasure to read and this is an excellent
example of his craft, giving the reader not only background information
about both pieces but also a really good outline of the action in
each score which, as so often with this writer, whets one’s
appetite to hear the music. I particularly like the way in which he
works into his narrative of Till Eulenspiegel
many of the composer’s
own descriptions of the music.
Masterwork Index: Don
Quixote ~~ Till
Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche