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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Burleske for Piano and orchestra in D minor, AV85 [20:19]
Duett-Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon & Strings, AV147 [18:37]
Romanze in E flat Major for Clarinet and Orchestra TRV 80 [8:30]
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, TRV 110 [29:24]
Michael McHale (piano), Julie Price (bassoon), Tasmin Little (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Michael Collins (clarinet)
rec. 2018, St. Lukes, Old Street, London, (Burleske, Romanze, Concerto); Studio 1, Maida Vale, London (Duett-Concertino)
CHANDOS CHAN20034 [76:53]

I have a problem with Richard Strauss. While I enjoy his music for smaller forces, his large-scale works have never really done much for me. So why am I reviewing a disc of his orchestral works, given that I have tended to find them overblown and self-indulgent? One work in particular has always left me cold and that is Eine Alpensinfonie, which for me is thirty minutes of music made to last for an hour. However, I have been re-evaluating Strauss of late, spending more time to get to know his music and seeing it in a new light, and this review is part of that process. Happily, the Alpine Symphony is not here, as no matter how I try, for me the moments of inspiration are still outweighed by the dull padding. I know that this will lead to derision, but we all have problem works and that is mine!

My reappraisal of this music began with revisiting the classic Kempe EMI box set (CZS 5 73614 2), which contains three of the works featured here, only the Romanze being missing. Indeed, this is the only work of which I don’t have a recording - except for the transcription for clarinet and piano played by Karl-Heinz Steffens and Wolfgang Sawallisch on Brilliant Classics (9231). Although I enjoy the chamber version, this new orchestral recording, that gives the solo part a greater voice, certainly brings more colour to the work, with the six-voice fugue coming through a lot better and Michael Collins giving a far stronger and passionate performance of this early work.

Of the other three concertante works, each is given a bright and engaging performance, with Michael McHale’s playing being particularly sparkling. His performance is strong and well-figured, surpassing both of the performances I have, and although he is slower that both Malcom Frager for Kempe and Jean-Yves Thibaudet for Herbert Blomstedt (475 6550), he never seems to drag. I particularly like the performance of the Duett-Concertino, especially the way that Julie Price and Michael Collins weave their respective parts around each other, while Price certainly makes more of her solo than Wolfgang Liebscher for Kempe, or, for that matter, Michael Werba for Previn (453 4832) and Alan Pendlebury for Schwarz (AV2071).

Of all the works featured on this disc, it is probably the Violin Concerto which has gained the greatest popularity and certainly garnered more recordings. Again, I have a couple of other recordings to stand alongside that of Ulf Hoelscher for Kempe: mainly Tanja Becker-Bender in Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series (CDA68044) and the somewhat disappointing ASV recording by Xue-Wei (CDDCA780) - mind you, I got that recording for the Headington. On listening anew, I find this new recording by Tasmin Little a bit driven and hard-edged for my liking, if I just wanted this work, I would opt for the Hyperion disc, which also offers the benefit of the Busoni. However, Little’s account is not far behind Becker-Bender’s, and certainly better than my other two recordings - and, it is ideally partnered with the other three concertante works.

So, has this recording done anything to change my view of Strauss and his orchestral music? It is hard to say, as three of the pieces are early and the other is hardly typical of the composer’s lush - dare I say? – over-indulgent, later orchestral style. I can only say is that I greatly enjoy this disc and have played it repeatedly, so much so that the performance is more and more growing on me with every listening. I therefore heartily recommend this disc to anyone seeking a recording of the concertante works of Richard Strauss. The solo performances are very good and more than matched by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Michael Collins’ control of the orchestra is masterly as he drives on the performances, especially in the Romanze where he acts as both soloist and conductor. I hope that his is not a fleeting appearance as a conductor and that Chandos asks him to record more works, even if the clarinet is not involved. The recording is blessed with the usual, detailed, Chandos recorded sound as well as fine booklet notes.

Stuart Sillitoe

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