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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Metamorphosen, TrV. 290 [27:15]
Serenade in E-flat major, Op. 7 [10:05]
Symphony for Wind Instruments, ‘Fröhliche Werkstatt’, TrV. 291 [40:27]
Aldeburgh Winds/Nicholas Daniel Aldeburgh Strings/Markus Däunert
rec. August, 2015, Snape Maltings, Snape, UK LINN CKD538 SACD [78:00]
The technical quality of the playing here is assured by the provenance of the musicians assembled for this recording. They are essentially two “super-group” of strings and wind-players from the Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme conducted respectively by distinguished violinist Markus Däunert and celebrated oboist Nicholas Daniel.
Indeed, this recording of Strauss’ searing threnody for a destroyed culture is beautifully played but also oddly sedate and nerveless, without the surging intensity, cumulative tension and massive sweep which characterises the greatest versions by such as Karajan, or Richard Stamp with the Academy of London. In a previous review elsewhere of the Stamp recording on Virgin Classics, happily coupled with nine of Strauss’ most popular Lieder exquisitely sung by Gundula Janowitz, I wrote, “This account of "Metamorphosen" is almost unbearably poignant and one to stand alongside the three by Karajan. If you do not picture Strauss wandering heartbroken amongst the ruins of the Vienna Opera House, thinking of his past triumphs staged in that edifice shattered by allied bombs, the ecstasy of those premières conjured up by the soaring middle section only to spiral down into despair, the music isn't working - and here it most certainly is. The final five minutes are devastatingly awful in their stark beauty.” The Lindenoper in Berlin and the Vienna, Dresden and Munich opera houses had all been obliterated in the relentless Allied air-raids; Strauss’ wrote in his diary “2000 years of cultural evolution had met its doom, and irreplaceable monuments of architecture and works of art were destroyed by a criminal soldiery.” Thus, this music needs to hit home like the best performances of Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht”; here it instead unfolds gently and elegantly and is ultimately too restrained, leaving the listener largely unmoved by what is surely one of the most profoundly anguished laments in all music. It needs the opulence and drama which Karajan and Stamp bring to the score – and even if Karajan did “cheat” to enhance its impact, he nonetheless did so with Strauss’s famous sanction, “If he’s got the strings, let him use them”.
The remainder of the programme is much more successful. I would not previously have ranked either the early Serenade or the late Symphony for Wind Instruments among Strauss’ most memorable or striking music, but performances as spontaneous and insouciant as these give grounds for reassessment. The former is a joyous work, full of floating melody and obviously inspired by – or even an homage to – Mozart’s K.361; the latter is reminiscent in its style and textures of the chamber music passages in “Ariadne auf Naxos” with its chattering, moto perpetuo opening Allegro, perky Andantino, elegant, wistful, and, again, very Mozartian Menuett. You would never guess that this piece was written in the dark days at the close of the war, but then the opening to the finale introduces a very different mood, with dark, minor, dissonant chords which are very Wagnerian in character and redolent of a strange consolation before the resumption of light-heartedness. The final section artfully mixes high spirits with the doom-laden “Götterdämmerung” chords, then concludes in a manner to suggest that even Hagen can cheer up and party.
The playing of Daniels’ wind ensemble is beyond reproach in the sensitivity of its phrasing and the sonority of its textures. Nothing is overtly histrionic; the music simply unfolds in the most natural manner possible. I find the recording acoustic to be faintly muffled but not disagreeably so.