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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche Op.28 (1895) [14:36]
Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Die Seejungfrau (1905) [46:06]
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Emmanuel Krivine
rec. Luxembourg Philharmonie, 30 March - 2 April & 7-8 April 2015
ALPHA CLASSICS 236 [60:46]

I enjoyed this disc very much, chiefly for the characterful interpretations and virtuosic playing it displays. I reviewed the same performers some years back in Debussy and was rather underwhelmed by conductor Emmanuel Krivine's choices. In this current disc I have to say I have nothing but praise - his many individual touches seeming here to work wholly to the music's advantage.

The disc opens with Richard Strauss's ever-popular Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche. Every time I return to this work I wonder anew at the miraculous concentration of musical material and narrative it contains. Krivine is excellent at conveying the pranking nature of the music, turning on a sixpence from lyrical musing to high-energy adventuring. In this he is greatly helped by playing - both from orchestral sections and individual soloists - of character beauty and intensity. The uncredited leader plays the tricky and coquettish violin solo as well as I have ever heard. Likewise, towards the end of the work the solo clarinet cries against Till's fate in a way that is wonderfully compelling. Krivine's overall timing is on the slightly faster side of average - Szell and Solti are quicker, Karajan & Maazel are slower and Kempe near enough identical but this is a case where timings alone can be misleading. The sharpness of the characterisation and the sense of the orchestra being wholly engaged with the conductor's vision produce a version that sweeps the listener forward on wave of roguish delight. High praise indeed to say that this version can stand comparison with any of the versions I know.

Coupling the Strauss with Alexander von Zemlinsky's most recorded score, Die Seejungfrau, is both unique and interesting. Strauss was one of the great influences on von Zemlinsky, so the juxtaposition of the 2 scores is very valid. One thing should be pointed out immediately, which the liner mentions almost in passing. This recording uses the new 2013 critical edition of the score made by Anthony Beaumont. As far as I am aware, apart from this edition's first recording on Ondine from John Storgårds conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, this is just the second recording of the new nominally definitive edition. I am still not wholly convinced by the legitimacy of this new version - see my review of the Ondine discs for an elaboration. But, if it is going to become the 'standard' version for performance and recording, then this is an excellent version by which to judge it. As a performance I much prefer Krivine to Storgårds. Both have excellent orchestras, but Krivine performs the work with a far greater sense of impetuous story-telling and emotional engagement. On one level Die Seejungfrau is a typical fairytale with all the drama such tales invoke. On another, von Zemlinsky was venting his own emotional turmoil in the aftermath of his doomed love for Alma Mahler, and Krivine is wholly engaged with this aspect of the work's stormy narrative. In the previous review I cited both Chailly on Decca and Beaumont's own recording on Chandos as preferable to Storgårds. In purely interpretative terms I find Krivine the equal of either. Interestingly it is the very sense of ebb and flow that I feel works so well here that undermined his romanticised Debussy on the earlier disc. Again timings can be deceptive. Krivine is exactly a minute quicker than Storgårds which is not a great deal in a work lasting around the 45 minute mark. But it is the sense of ebb and flow that Krivine has mastered so well.

There is a but, and quite a serious one for two such rich and detailed scores. The recording here is far from demonstration class. Indeed, I find it rather flat and harsh and suffering from some congestion at the biggest climaxes. Recording balances are far from subtle, too, and the acoustics of the Philharmonie Luxembourg are given little opportunity to impact. The quality of the music-making does shine through, and the ear does adjust - but if this had been a top-notch recording, too, then this would be a serious disc of the year contender. I would still rate this as the best Die Seejungfrau of recent years and one admirers of Zemlinsky's music will want to hear - Krivine's intensely Romantic and engaging account of the score is quite excellent.

The tri-lingual liner is brief and not particularly enlightening. Presentation is the now-common foldout cardboard sleeve with the disc clicking into the right hand side with the liner tucked into the left. If only the recording itself were better I would give this an unreserved welcome.

Nick Barnard



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