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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Symphonia Domestica Op.53 (1904) [44:54]
Die Tageszeiten for male chorus and orchestra, Op. 76 (1928) [22.40]
Herren des Rundfunkchores Berlin,
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Marek Janowski
rec. 2012/14, Haus des Rundfunks, RBB Berlin, Germany
Texts and English translations provided in booklet
PENTATONE PTC5186507 SACD [67.50]

Not surprisingly in 2014 a substantial quantity of Richard Strauss recordings were released for the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1864. Many commemorative Strauss concerts were programmed in and around 2014 and a number of recordings from those anniversary concerts have still to be issued.

This Pentatone release, a studio recording, provides the opportunity to hear two of Strauss’s lesser known works: the huge Symphonia Domestica and Die Tageszeiten which is a real rarity. As a professional conductor for most of his life Strauss conducted numerous performances in Berlin, mainly operas as well as orchestral concerts. It feels especially satisfying that one of the Berlin orchestras that Strauss conducted is performing on this release.

For his large-scale Symphonia Domestica Strauss looked to his own personal life depicting aspects of his domestic situation. The four movement tone poem portrays events such as children at play, parental arguments, making love - the ups and downs of family life. The fact that Strauss could write a major work based on such trivial domestic subjects was controversial causing much critical comment. Strauss directed the première himself with the Wetzler Symphony Orchestra on his American tour at Carnegie Hall in 1904. Strauss conducting his own works with his soprano wife Pauline de Ahna created great interest and two repeat New York concerts were arranged held at a most unusual concert venue the Wanamaker Manhattan department store. Throughout, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin respond magnificently to Janowski’s direction. He unites the layers of this lavish orchestral score into a cohesive whole, moving the music forward with judicious momentum. In the second movement Scherzo the chamber-like sections are light and fresh with a particularly intimate feel. Best of all are the luxuriant orchestral climaxes here so impressively rendered.

Cast in four movements Die Tageszeiten (The Times of Day) from 1928 scored for male chorus and orchestra is a setting of poems by Joseph von Eichendorff. Strauss was commissioned by the Wiener Schubertbund, an ensemble that introduced the work the same year at the Deutsche Sängerbundesfest, Vienna. I can’t fault the incisive Herren des Rundfunkchores Berlin - such a well drilled and excellently unified unit with a most agreeable tone. The opening movement Der Morgen (Morning) is joyously upbeat and carefree and Mittagsruh (Afternoon Rest) has a calm, deeply reflective disposition providing a shimmering rather magical effect. In Der Abend (Evening) a troubling undercurrent infuses the rustling quality and the memorable final movement Die Nacht (Night) swells with a profound dream-like atmosphere.

The booklet essay although acceptable might have provided more background detail about each work. On the plus side full texts of Die Tageszeiten with English translations are provided in booklet. This Pentatone SACD, played on my standard unit, was recorded at sessions in 2012 and 2014 at the Haus des Rundfunks, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg. The sound team excel providing splendid clarity and presence, all well balanced and revealing plenty of detail. Admirers of Richard Strauss should relish this rarely heard repertoire especially in performances as admirable as these.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: John Whitmore



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