The Strauss Wind Sonatinas date from the great Indian Summer at the end of
his life that also featured his late masterpieces such as
and the Second Horn Concerto. You
can tell: the first movement of the first Sonatina, for example, seems to
contain an explicit reference to the Countess's Moonlight music. There is
also the sense of man drawing towards his end who is casting a nostalgic
look over his life. The opening of No. 1, for example, has a sly, knowing
sense that put me in mind of the prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos
fact, a wry sense of humour seems to run through the whole disc, with a
rather deliberately knowing feel, as though the works are directed at those
on the inside who know Strauss's music already. In short, they might seem
forbidding to some who are already a bit tired of Strauss's not undeveloped
sense of self-worth. Many of the composer's substantial band of critics
would question how he was able to write such merry, seemingly carefree music
at a time when his home country was imploding around in him in the chaos of
the Second World War.
I love these works, however. That wry sense of humour, and the elderly
composer's unfailing instinct for sonic textures, makes them very appealing
indeed. There is a beautiful resonance to the recording and lovely
homogeneous blend to the sound that allows these passages to sing
magnificently. There is a beautiful cantabile
line to the slow
movement of No. 1, for example, but also a hint of poignancy that is very
touching. Its finale is a little more spiky, but still has beautiful
interplay of the lines, and the songful elements are refracted through
Strauss's playful musical personality.
No. 2 opens with syncopated fanfares that manage to be humorous at the
same time, and it maintains an air of rippling good humour throughout. The
second movement is a wry, tongue-in-cheek march, while the third is gruff,
beginning as a slightly bumbling Minuet and then evolving into something
more conversational with a lovely clarinet-led Trio. The finale then opens
with a thoughtful horn theme that turns into an Allegro with a flute-led
theme that begins as something sweet but then becomes transformed into
something surprisingly noble.
The playing of the Armonia Ensemble is excellent throughout, skilful and
characterful without drawing too much attention to itself for its own sake.
As important, and as good, is the recorded sound. It features beautiful
blend and a lovely sense of space around the instruments so that the music
truly breathes, in more ways than one. The texture of the music is so
appealing, and the playing so beautifully realised and balanced that I
enjoyed this disc very much. It's well worth checking out.