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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Eine Alpensinfonie [51:45] Tod und Verklärung [24:06]
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. 2017, Oslo Concert Hall LAWO CLASSICS LWC1192 [75:51]
There is no shortage of recommendable recordings of both the seminal Strauss works here, so any new one has to be good. I am a confirmed admirer of Vasily Petrenko and there is no doubt that the Oslo Philharmonic is a very fine orchestra: smooth, sonorous and virtuosic…and it is in that first epithet wherein lies the rub: the playing here is so elegant and accomplished that I miss the elemental edge and grit required to give this most programmatic of works extra impact. Karajan could with justification be accused of “smoothification” but his famous, pioneering digital recording has considerably more rhythmic bite and tautness of phrasing than Petrenko engineers here. The playing is flawless, the control absolute and the recorded sound superb but it is not as exciting as the best. Climactic moments such as the arrival at the summit and the depiction of the panorama lack something of the impact of favourite versions by Jurowski (review), Jansons (review), Shipway (review), even Judd with the European Union Youth Orchestra (review), and the aforementioned Karajan.
Having said that, I would not want to damn this with faint praise; it contains passages of grandeur and splendour, such as the conclusion of the “Vision” section, Petrenko’s ability to conjure up the sublime mystery of the mountain and the prominence of the organ in the closing tracks are all particularly striking, especially as the digital sound is so vivid. Furthermore, it is coupled with a really splendid account of the showpiece Tod und Verklärung. Again, there is no lack of options when it comes to choosing a recording, but this one is a contender. Petrenko successfully captures the brooding anticipation of the slow opening section and when the thwacking drumbeat five exactly minutes in ushers in a new urgency, he first provides all the grim intensity the score demands, then caresses the melting lyricism of the middle section before cranking up the tension once more for the gripping apotheosis.
Not, then, an absolute first choice recording but one which will hardly disappoint and offers the audiophile the advantage of finest sound.