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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Concerto in D major for oboe and small orchestra TrV 292 (1945) [25:10]
Serenade in E flat major for 13 wind instruments Op.7 TrV 106 (1881) [9:15]
Sonatina No.2 in E flat major (Fröhliche Werkstatt) for 16 wind instruments TrV 291 (1944-45) [38:46]
Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Andris Nelsons (concerto)
Winds of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
rec. Het Koninlijk Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, (live), 8, 9 & 12 October 2014 (concerto), Singelkerk, Amsterdam, 2016
Reviewed in surround
BIS SACD BIS2163 [74:12]

The RCO, long champions of Strauss’ work, perform this programme to the manner born. For the Concerto their magnificent principal oboe Alexei Ogrintchouk serves as soloist, and in the other pieces he plays and directs the performances. The Oboe Concerto needs to be performed as if the soloist were singing a wordless soprano line. Opportunities for breathing are strictly limited, making a smooth delivery still harder. Ogrintchouk's breaths can be heard if one listens carefully but he handles the seamless element as well as anyone. The actual sound is perhaps less round than it might be. His is a more dramatic than lyrical delivery. One gets more lyricism from, for example, Manfred Clement on Kempe's classic Dresden performance from the 70s, and more athleticism from František Hanták on an ancient Supraphon (now CD SU39552, though I used the LP) who bounces through the work as if it is easy, egged on, I might add, by a lively Brno Philharmonic. The sheer clarity of this present BIS SACD makes every strand audible and at least the urge to drift into a Strauss reverie is reduced; ultimately a good thing.

The two other works share a certain joie de vivre but of course the earlier Serenade has none of that wonderful nostalgia with which the composer fills so many of his late pieces. The Second Sonatina is teeming with ideas and of course with self-quotation. It is radiant and very expansive and lasts close on 40 minutes, almost symphonic in scale despite only using sixteen winds. This is a very convincing performance as might be expected from a great orchestra such as this.

I wonder if I am alone in wondering what the TrV numbers were. It seems a revised catalogue of works was published in 1999 by Florian Trenner which included all the latest sources on Richard Strauss. This is not to suggest that any of the three works above is a new discovery, they are all old friends in the record catalogue, even the early Serenade has a lengthy recorded history. Listening to these marvellously fluent and engaged performances one is reminded of Strauss’ own tongue-in-cheek assessment of himself as a “first class, second rate composer”. He knew he was bucking the trend of modern music and continued to do so till almost the middle of the 20th century. All three pieces are anachronistic, though perhaps Op.7 was less out of its time in 1881 than were the other two in the mid 1940s. The Second Sonatina harks back to the composer’s achievements at the height of his powers when he composed Der Rosenkavalier. This Sonatina was entitled Fröhliche Werkstatt (Happy Workshop) and at the end he added the words "To the Manes (spirit) of the divine Mozart at the end of a life full of thankfulness”. As for the Oboe concerto, we must ourselves be thankful that Strauss so quickly rescinded that famous "No", uttered in the summer of 1945 when the idea of writing such a piece was suggested by visiting American oboist John de Lancie.

Dave Billinge

Previous review: Nick Barnard



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