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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64 (1911-15)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony/Andrés Orozco-Estrada
rec. 2016, Alte Oper, Frankfurt PENTATONEPTC5186628 SACD [55:32]
Just over a year ago, I glowingly reviewed the reissue of James Judd’s Alpensinfonie on the Alto label (review); three months before that I was equally enthusiastic about Mariss Jansons’ recording for BR Klassik (review) and rather excessively nominated both as my ROTM. I have on my shelves at least a dozen versions, of which I prize most those conducted by Karajan Thielemann, Shipway and Maazel. So how does this new contender measure up?
I love Strauss’ last tone poem but the question must be asked whether we really need yet another recording. I heard Andrés Orozco-Estrada conduct Mahler earlier this year and was deeply impressed; he knows how to mould and pace large-scale orchestral works, bringing out their multi-layered textures clearly and building inexorably to the big moments and it’s not so far from Mahler 5 to this piece.
He has here at his disposal a first-class orchestra and their sound is beautiful; however, I am conscious while listening to this of a certain restraint or carefulness in the conductor’s direction, such that I desire more release and a sense of wild ecstasy in this paean to the sublime in Nature and miss the élan of my favourite accounts. That element of deliberateness is borne out by the overall timing being several minutes slower than most recordings; there is some risk of ponderousness, for example in “Auf dem Gipfel” where things should really go into overdrive and my attention starts to wander back to more compelling accounts. For all that, the playing is sumptuous, even if it sometimes lacks tension.
The sound engineering is of course superb, perfectly balanced from the distanced horns to the thunderous storm sequence; every instrumental strand is clear.
Why, unless it’s purely for protection, do designers insist on encasing CDs in superfluous cardboard sleeves which reproduce exactly what in on the plastic case? It’s also a bit cheap these days to give us this one work without a filler; Judd gave us the Adagio from Mahler’s Tenth Symphony and Jansons the whole of Tod und Verklärung.