Metamorphosen is a large-scaled study for 23 solo strings, an extended
three-part slow movement, where two Adagios enclose a more animated middle
section. Written in the closing weeks of the Second World War, it represents
Strausss confrontation with pain and apathy. It is widely held in some
quarters that it is an elegy for the devastating Allied bombing of Dresden
and Munich, though opinions differ on this. Commissioned by the Swiss
conductor Paul Sacher, it was dedicated to him and to the Collegium Musicum,
who premiered it on 25 January 1946 in the Z|rich Tonhalle.
Although these two recordings have been culled from the Bavarian Radio
Symphony Orchestra archives, there is almost a fifty year gap between the
two, with Metamorphosen being set down in 1959 in mono. Jochums is a
dignified reading of great refinement. He structures this lengthy one
movement work in an intelligent and logical way, and draws from the players
the necessary pathos and tragic elements. He elicits great power and
intensity in the climaxes. Yet, whilst the performance is interpretively
fine, the dated mono sound does reveal some shortcomings in the aural
perspective and renders the string tone monochrome. Muddy textures mar the
definition in the louder passages where I detect some loss of clarity. For
me, this is a work that benefits modern digital sound, and the 1983
recording with Karajan is the ideal. In stunning sound, the detail,
transparency, colour and warmth that the Berlin players bring to this music,
essential ingredients missing from the 1959 airing, set this recording
apart. Kempe and the Dresden players offer a distinguished and compelling
In his later life, Strauss diverted his interest from the large orchestral
canvasses and operas, scaling down his compositions; the Concerto for Oboe
and Small Orchestra being a case in point. It was also premiered in 1946.
Again, the Z|rich Tonhalle was the venue, but this time the players were the
resident Tonhalle-Orchester and the conductor Volkmar Andreae, the
dedicatees of the work. The oboist was Marcel Saillet. The composer had some
misgivings about the concerto after its initial performance and revised the
finale before publication.
The four-movement Concerto is a delightful, sunny work, and provides a
suitable contrast to the dark and sombre complexion of the Metamorphosen.
Stefan Schilli gives a masterful performance, having the stamina and
breath-control to sustain the lengthy narratives. This is a piece that
requires formidable skill and virtuosity from the soloist. Jansons is a
sympathetic partner providing sensitive support. Quality of sound is
first-class, with the Herkulessaal, Munich conferring a warm ambience.
This disc is worth investigating for the Concerto, but those wishing to
savour the delights of the Metamorphosen need to look elsewhere.