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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite [36:17]
Ariadne auf Naxos Symphony-Suite (arr. D. Wilson Ochoa) [39:17];
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/ JoAnn Falletta
rec. 3 November 2014 (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme); 20 March 2016 (Ariadne auf Naxos), Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo
NAXOS 8.573460 [75:34]

The incidental music to Molière's famous play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is a marvellous score dating from 1912. The music is inspired by Jean-Baptiste Lully and Strauss draws on some of that composer’s melodies and blends them with his own. Strauss has cleverly captured the spirit of the 17th century in his score. This is Strauss at his charming intimate best, the baroque (neo-classical) style being a million miles away from some of his huge symphonic poems that some listeners find overblown. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is to Strauss what Pulcinella is to Stravinsky. There is a striking similarity. Both scores were inspired by composers from days gone by and both suites contain attractive, chamber-like sonorities and good tunes. This new performance from Buffalo is a great credit to the orchestra and its front desk soloists, all of whom play spectacularly well. The woodwind playing is especially good but mention must be made of the delicious passages for the solo strings - those melting cello solos are gorgeous. The solo violin is expertly played by William Preucil, the leader of the Cleveland Orchestra. The recording is perfectly balanced, combining clarity with a soft edged glow. This really is a top recommendation for the suite.

The Symphony-Suite from Ariadne auf Naxos by D. Wilson Ochoa was commissioned by Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 2010 and it is here receiving its first recording. Ariadne auf Naxos uses an orchestra of chamber-like proportions and it makes an unusual, sensible coupling on this CD. This expertly crafted arrangement consists of seven separate sections - the opera’s highlights - played as a seamless whole. The original Strauss orchestration remains intact with the solo singers being replaced by orchestral instruments. What luxurious music this is. Maybe at 39 minutes it is over long and the relative lack of fast, loud passages does begin to make the suite too much of a good thing after a time. Then again, can one really become bored with such beauty, intimacy and romanticism? The solo violin part is sensitively played here by Dennis Kim. The performance by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, again beautifully recorded, really hits the spot and does full justice to the special melodic sound-world of Strauss. The words opulent and passionate readily spring to mind. The highlight is undoubtedly the aria Es gibt ein Reich, providing the listener with 6 minutes of sheer joy. Maybe there’s a slight (and I mean slight) lack of string tone compared to the likes of the Vienna Philharmonic in full flight but the Buffalo strings still sound very beautiful in their own way, as does the recording as a whole.

To summarize, this is a fine addition to the Strauss discography. Maybe hearing this Ariadne auf Naxos suite will make some listeners return to the original just to find out what a lovely opera this is.

John Whitmore



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