Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64 (1911-15) [51:00]
Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 (1888-89) [24:10]
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live 13-15 October, 2016 (Alpensinfonie); 24-28 February, 2014 (Tod und Verklärung)
BR KLASSIK 900148 [75:10]

Strauss’s paean to nature and riposte to organised religion has been on the receiving end of some scathing pronouncements from music critics over the years. All I can say is that I love this, his last tone poem, and wonder that in a work so full of self-consciously grandiose and histrionic orchestral effects, anyone is scandalised by a conductor going OTT in the big moments. I thoroughly enjoy highpoints such as the glorious C major climax in “Auf dem Gipfel” and am consoled by the fact that many music-lovers similarly prize “Eine Alpensinfonie”, and that many great conductors have considered it worth of their best attention.

With so many superlative and recommendable recordings already in the field, hailing another as the “best” is foolhardy, but despite my attachment to the classic version from Karajan and recordings by Thielemann, Shipway and Maazel - with the same orchestra as here - I think this would now be my prime recommendation to anyone new to the work, simply because of its combination of superb sound, the technical excellence of execution by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the sheer electricity of this performance under Jansons's direction.

These are live recordings, presumably edited from two separate concert performances of each work and the results are flawless; there is no audience noise and apart from the occasional, faintly audible obbligato from the conductor, all one hears is perfect balance among the various components of one great, huge orchestra working in unison. The depth of sound is extraordinary, but every instrumental detail emerges clearly, from the moment that majestic B flat minor pedal sounds the mysterious opening, through to the downward string glissando which heralds the full circle restatement, 51 minutes later, of the same brooding chord, which opened the piece. Especially praiseworthy are the error-free horns, consistently producing aureate tone and perfectly distanced for the hunting episode towards the ending of the section entitled “Der Anstieg” ( The Ascent”). The timpani, too, are endlessly subtle and varied in their effects; this is one great orchestra.

“Tod und Verklärung” is likewise executed in masterly fashion, perfectly paced and magnificently played. The score might contain typically bombastic moments, but the opening pages narrating death and dissolution, and the central section depicting enlightenment, are sweetly and delicately realised. In the triumphant conclusion, the strings soar ecstatically and the brass blazes grandly above the celestial harp. Again, there are of course other splendid recordings by such as Ormandy, Kempe, Blomstedt, Sinopoli and of course Karajan, who can never be discounted in Strauss, but this makes an ideal coupling for the devotee of Big Band Strauss.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Michael Cookson

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