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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Aber der Richtige ...
Violin Concerto in D minor Op.8 [29:49]
Arrangements for violin and orchestra:
Romanze [9:36]
Little Scherzino Op.3 No.4 [4:12]
Zueignung Op.10 No.1 [1:34]
Traum durch die Dämmerung Op.29 No.1 [2:46]
Cäcilie Op.27 No.2 [2:27]
Wiegenlied Op.41 No.1 [4:30]
Aber der Richtige (from Arabella) [5:09]
Arabella Steinbacher (violin)
WDR Symphony Orchestra/Lawrence Foster
rec. Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany, 2017
Hybrid SACD/CD Stereo/Surround 5.0; reviewed in surround
PENTATONE PTC5186653 SACD [60.35]

It is clear that this latest release on Pentatone SACD is a dedication to Arabella Steinbacher's family for their support in a career that is now fully established on the international stage. The words "Aber der Richtige ..." (the right one) are emblazoned on the cover. The letters are bigger than anything else, even those used for the composer or indeed Steinbacher herself. There is a section of the liner notes detailing the violinist's recollections of her household when she was growing up and opposite the unusually personal note is a photograph of the soloist as a very young child of, maybe, two years. She stands by the wrought ironwork banisters in her home within which are the musical staves containing the Aber der Richtige motif. Steinbacher's father was solo-répétiteur (soloist coach) at the Bayrischer Staatsoper during the 1980s and baby Steinbacher was named after the eponymous Arabella of Strauss' opera (which does appear to have been in repertory in Munich at the time - under Wolfgang Sawallisch I would speculate). Aber der Richtige is a key duet in Act 1 and indeed the motif Strauss wrote for the passage is integral to much of the thematic development of the work. It appears also at the very end in the final duet between Arabella and her betrothed husband Mandryka. It is hardly surprising, as the liner note states, that the violinist was so named.

This strong link to Richard Strauss and to her family background explains the unusual programming of the disc, the early Violin Concerto of Strauss and the seven miniatures, all transcribed for violin and orchestra by Strauss and others, that follow it to make up the second half. It needs explanation because this content is rather unusual for a leading soloist of her stature. The concerto is scarcely of major importance, though attractive in its way. Norman Del Mar writes with little enthusiasm of the work whilst noting that some parts hint at the more important compositions to come. Another major biographer, Michael Kennedy, scarcely bothers to mention the piece. It is a standard classical concerto but one which lacks a proper cadenza. It is certainly not without its attractions, particularly the slow movement, and Steinbacher makes the best possible case for it. The miniatures are beautifully played but in some cases, (the songs) a lot more musically convincing in their original guise with sung words. For example Wiegenlied is lovely as a violin solo but absolutely gorgeous sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

Unusually for a Pentatone SACD I have some issues with the surround recording. Whilst the orchestra sounds as spacious as usual, the violin sounds too recessed for clarity and the image itself is unstable, moving from side to side. I think it is fair to suggest that the recording was balanced primarily for stereo listening, that being the most commonly used format amongst listeners, and the surround mix was a lower priority. I confirmed this by trying the SACD and CD stereo tracks and there the violin sound is clean, clear and stable, as one would expect. It may be a further sign of the slow retreat from surround recording that is occurring all over the industry. One cannot be sure where the pressure is coming from, the listening public, the accountants or the audio manufacturers. It is very noticeable that audio oriented surround disc players are disappearing from the marketplace so if you have a good one, look after it.

Dave Billinge


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