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Cantatas for Soprano
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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 [44:43] Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 (1888/89) [25.48]
Götesborgs Symfoniker/Kent Nagano
rec. 2016, Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden FARAO CLASSICSB108092 [70:43]
Great recordings of both of these tone poems are hardly in short supply; I have just finished reviewing the new issue of Strauss works from Sebastian Weigle and his Frankfurt orchestra which, while competent, could not withstand comparison with established classics or the best of recent digital issues.
This new recording from Sweden is superior to that new Oehms disc, but once again runs into stiff competition. Anyone who loves Strauss’ tone poems as I do will be familiar with recordings by the likes of Reiner, Karajan, Blomstedt, Maazel et al; Karajan left us two coruscating live performances of Ein Heldenleben, from Moscow in 1969 and the Royal Festival Hall in 1985, just after the recording of the middle of his three superb studio recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic. Any of those is recommendable as a first choice, although I favour the last, nor do I think you can go wrong with Reiner or my wild card, Eiji Oue with the Minnesota orchestra. My favourite of all remains the 1960 vintage recording by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra on Sony.
The same is true of Tod und Verklärung; many of those same conductors mentioned above have given us near-definitive accounts and there we must throw Szell and Kempe and into the mix. Again, my slightly idiosyncratic choice above all would be the live Celibidache recording I recently named as my Recording of the Month (review).
So how do Nagano and his Gothenburg orchestra measure up against such illustrious names? Well; these are fine performances, but I could not in all conscience rank them as the equal of the very best. A good deal here is decidedly better executed than in the Weigle recording there is greater precision, cleaner articulation, more dynamic variety, more generous phrasing and even a clearer, fuller sound picture, too. This work needs some swagger and Nagano provides it; the concluding apotheosis in track 15 builds gloriously with an appropriately audible tam-tam but the brass chorale outburst half way through is too restrained.
In short, both tone poems receive satisfying interpretations but neither rivals the best the catalogue has to offer.
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