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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Sonata for cello and piano in F Major, op. 6 (1881-1883) [24:22]
Zueignung, op. 10 no. 1 (arr. Müller-Schott) (1885) [1:35]
Ich trage meine Minne, op. 32 no. 1 (arr. Müller-Schott) (1896) [2:12]
Don Quixote, Fantastic Variations on a Knightly Theme (1897) [42:01]
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
Herbert Schuch (piano)
Christopher Moore (viola)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 2017, Hamer Hall Arts Center, Melbourne, Australia
ORFEO C968191 [70:02]

I must confess that I have never understood the attraction of Strauss’s Don Quixote. Compared to other tone poems such as Don Juan or Till Eulenspiegel, the piece sags. Although there is some evidence of a master at work, there is altogether too much note-spinning, and not enough forward motion. Worst of all, the humor of the Cervantes original does not translate to Strauss’s Germanic, late-Romantic orchestral language. Much is made of the bleating orchestra in the battle against the sheep, or the wind machine and woodwind scales in the “Ride through the Air” variation, not to mention the ostensibly amusing Walkürenritt quotation in the same movement. The comedy of the tone poem is bland, however, lacking any of the bite (some might say the cruelty) of the novel. Strauss does much better with the more sentimental elements of the book, particularly the death scene; still, even there, he does not capture the moment with the same emotional depth as his French colleagues Massenet or Ibert.

I wish I could write that this excellent live performance by Daniel Müller-Schott and the Melbourne Symphony led by Sir Andrew Davis converted me, but my concerns about the piece remain the same. This is not due to any lack of conviction on the part of the performers; Müller-Schott and his colleagues play with great energy and affection for the material. The final movement, Quixote’s Death, is performed with the right note of noble resignation, and the following audience applause is enthusiastic. (It should be noted that the Melbourne audience is amazingly silent throughout.)

Of more interest is the performance of the Strauss Cello Sonata that opens the disc. This is the finest recording of the work that I have come across. Müller-Schott and his musical partner Herbert Schuch play with an effective combination of elegance and dynamism in the outer movements, and find a beautiful sense of repose in the slow movement. The cellist’s tone is large and warm, featuring a powerful core that seems to elude many modern players. His intonation is always spot-on, and he consistently plays with great élan. This is music that demands a swashbuckling approach, and he provides it with no bashfulness.

Schuch is an outstanding pianist. His phrasing is sensitive, his softer colors varied in the extreme, but he is not afraid to play out in muscular fashion when the score calls for it. Schuch’s voicing and his timing of broken chords (both a real concern in this thickly-scored piece) are impeccable. Strauss’s writing for the pianist is ungrateful, but one would never know it from Schuch’s graceful performance.

The two cello/piano encores placed after the sonata – a pair of famous Strauss lieder transcribed by Müller-Schott – are pleasant, but unnecessary. Removing the words from these songs do not improve them in any way, and the melodic material in them does not soar in a transformative manner when transferred to the cello.

Richard Masters

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