Strauss @ 150 Part 3 Orchestral performance

Recently we had Strauss' 150th anniversary and Radio 3 devoted their afternoons to Strauss' music and the music which influenced Strauss.  It does present me with a chance to review a few Strauss performances I've heard on the radio in the first half of the year.

Gunther Herbig took the helm for a concert with the BBCPO on February 1 which included Tod und Verklarung and the Brentano Songs by Strauss and a scorching performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No 10.  The reputation of Tod ind Verklarung has always struggled with audiences loving it and some critics and scholars questioning it's material.  To some extent this was put to one side by Karajan's extraordinary digital recording which magnificently showed there was beauty in the banal.  But having found a solution to the performance problem the key question for me is how any subsequent reading finds a different path.  This performance was a deal more fitful than the Berlin recording but I'd wager had the same same silkiness of strings and sweetness of winds.  The relapsing old man was taken to the edge of dramatic parody but didn't cross it - the brass of the BBC PO playing securely and vigorously - they sound as though they love this music.  The transition was where Karajan's gift worked wonders (transitions where his speciality in fact). Herbig worked wonders with a slow examination of the the harp and wind choirs over disappearing restless strings.

Unsurprisingly the Francois Xavier Roth and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in cocnert could not match the South West [German] Radio Symphony Orchestra (Baden-Baden and Freiburg) in Don Quixote on a Hannsler Classic CD. There's no shame in that - Roth and his German orchestra are challenging the finest version of CD from across the year in their series which also benefit from superlative playing and brillinat recording. Timothy Hugh was a slightly more characterful Don than Frank-Michael Guthmann so there were merits here.  But to hear the sheer exoticism of this score grab Roth's recording and preprare to be amazed.

Vassily Sinaisky took the helm of the BBC Philharmonic in another Strauss concert in February with Don Juan, more songs and then Symphonia Domestica.  Don Juan was vivid and brilliant, Sinaisky is unabashed with his projection of orchestral detail and colour.  The same was true of Symphonia Domestica which received a remarkable performance - I love this score it is a truly outstanding essay in 20th Century life - all of its brashness was nicely underlined with its symphonic lines and a splendid broadcast sound from BB Radio 3 - it was to my ear the finest delineation of the score I've heard - wonderful for those of us brought up on muddy recordings of huge orchestras from the 1970s and 1980s.  It remains a Marmite piece and many hate it's candour and affectations.  I'd say that they are no more self-absorbed than much of the art of the period.

For those who hate the colossal side of Strauss - equally compelling and wonderfully played through - was an account of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by the Ulster Orchestra under Michael Seal at a June Radio 3 afternoon concert. it was full of poise and delight.  There were a few blips - easier to spot in this sparely orchestral sound - but my word it was characterful.  Seal convinced me of the score for the first time and effortlessly revealed the two sides of the truly neo classical

Maris Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra gave us their 2014 Ein Heldenleben and what a hideous affair it was.  Leaden first and second sections with somewhat feverish and intrusive high woodwind and scarcely assertive horns.  The third section, the portrait of Pauline Strauss was delicate carved out but in one dimensional dynamics - with way too much vibrato at times and slovenly interjections from the orchestra.  Even the harp sounded earth-bound, with weak pizzicati strings to boot.  The pace and texture picks up a bit in the love scene though Jansons pulled the music about a bit.  The Battle sequence is one of the least effective I've heard: all piss and wind as they'd say in Yorkshire.  And the glorious tone we used to hear from Haitink, Jochum and occasionally from Chailly is lost to a generic Mittel-European wash.  The deeds of Peace are heavily underlined in a thick slow fog of string tone. The disruptive minor key episodes are neither as menacing or taut as they could have been leading to a soppy transition into the retirement.  There's some wonderful solo woodwind playing here, but my attention and involvement had been lost long before.

Chailly's "celebratory" Tod und Verklarung was with his orchestra the Leipzig Gewandhaus and was somewhat cautious - a beautiful sound but rather too much indulgence in it and not enough adventure.  I'll take Herbig any time.


Popular Posts