R Strauss - Also Sprach, Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel
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Cat No: C878141
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 7th April 2014
WorksAlso sprach Zarathustra, op.30
Don Juan, op.20
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, op.28
ArtistsCity of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
In this year of Richard Straussís 150th birthday, it seems natural that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons should add the ultimate candle to the birthday cake, as it were, given that their previous recordings of Strauss's works for Orfeo ('Ein Heldenleben' C803091A, 'Alpine Symphony' C833111A) have been amongst the label's most successful of recent years.
Here, the CBSO and its music director offer us a selection of the early tone poems. In 'Don Juan', Strauss combined big tunes and orchestral virtuosity with a dash of immorality and wacky humour. Nelsons and the CBSO delight in the Donís life of adventure and conquest that comes to a sticky end.
The macabre climax to 'Till Eulenspiegel', with the hanging of the protagonist, is preceded by a witty exploration of just about every possible orchestral timbre, with Strauss pulling out all the stops to depict Tillís merry pranks.
The world-class CBSO, homogenous across all the sections of the orchestra, is just whatís needed for the great 'Also sprach Zarathustra'. "Freely based on Friedrich Nietzsche" (as Strauss himself wrote), Nelsons and the CBSO do equal justice to Zarathustraís address to the sun and to the mysterious close in which the motives of Man and Nature alternate in their respective keys. This new recording undoubtedly counts as one of the most awaited highlights of the Strauss anniversary year.
Recorded Birmingham Symphony Hall September 2011 / January 2012 / January 2013.
The Europadisc Review
Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra continue their widely-acclaimed series of Strauss orchestral works on the Orfeo label with new accounts of three of the composer's most popular tone poems. These pieces used to be the staple of the big international record labels, under such great Straussians as Reiner, Kempe, BŲhm, Karajan and Solti, and there's certainly no shortage of competition in this repertoire. Yet these performances rise almost effortlessly to the challenge, in recordings of stunning immediacy.
The main work is Also sprach Zarathustra, whose episodic nature is sometimes treated with scorn by cognoscenti. What's needed in performance is not just sensitivity to the score's many exacting demands, but also a sense of utmost conviction from the musicians. Happily, both are in plentiful supply here. Nelsons is careful to allow space for the climaxes (the opening Sunrise is particularly gripping), but he doesn't overload the orchestral palette, so that there's a sense of refreshing lightness to many of the textures. Nor does he hang around more than necessary: even in the more lugubrious passages of 'Von der Wissenschaft' and 'Der Gensende' there's a palpable sense of momentum. The 'Tanzlied' is a pure delight, full of sparkle and with some exceptionally fine solo playing, and playing of great warmth from the strings and brass in the middle section, building to a formidable climax. The closing 'Song of the Night Wanderer' is as magically mysterious and enigmatic as one could wish for.
In Nelsons' hands, Don Juan enjoys a particularly exuberant performance, and the CBSO are well up to the challenges from the very outset, when they hit the ground running. Once again, Nelsons knows just where to ease off the pedal: the great second subject enjoys a meltingly languorous performance here, full of bloom, as does the G-major love theme (with some lovely oboe playing). The CBSO's horns excel in Don Juan's 'big theme', both at its first hearing and on its exultant return at the work's climax. The development zips along athletically, while the ending is bleak without overdoing the pathos.
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche is the earliest performance here (2011), yet it's every bit as vivid as its companions. The solo contributions are once again uniformly excellent and characterful, with just the right amount of playful sprightliness, while the full orchestra blend is faultless. Above all, this is an opportunity to admire the nimbleness of the CBSO's wind section, with the flute and clarinet sections particularly outstanding, as well as some notably alert percussion playing. As in Don Juan, Nelsons imparts a wonderful sense of buoyancy that Strauss himself would no doubt have admired; this is very much Strauss as heir of the classical tradition and Berlioz, rather than in the shadow of Wagner. And while the details are tellingly realised, the overall shape of the work is never lost sight of.
Alongside Nelsons and the CBSO, producer Tim Oldham and engineer Phil Rowlands have done a terrific job here, and for those wanting this particular coupling this is certainly one of the best accounts there's been since the days of the celebrated Solti/Chicago LP from Decca. These are virtuosic performances without the slightest hint of contrivance, and a fine way to celebrate Strauss's 150th birthday year.
1Also sprach - Introduktion
2Also sprach - Von den Hinterweltlern
3Also sprach - Von den grossen Sehnsucht
4Also sprach - Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften
5Also sprach - Das Grablied
6Also sprach - Von der Wissenschaft
7Also sprach - Der Genesende
8Also sprach - Das Tanzlied
9Also sprach - Das Nachtwanderlied
11Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
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