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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Aber der Richtige ...
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 8 (1882) [29.49]
Romance in F major (1883) [9.36]
Little Scherzino, Op. 3, No. 4 (1882) (arr. Peter von Wienhardt) [4.12]
Zueignung, Op. 10, No. 1 (1885) [1.34]
Traum durch die Dämmerung, Op. 29, No. 1 (1895) [2.46]
Cäcilie, Op. 27, No. 2 (1894) [2.27]
Wiegenlied, Op. 41, No. 1 (1900) [4.30]
Aber der Richtige… from Arabella (arr. Peter von Wienhardt) [5.09]
Arabella Steinbacher (violin)
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Lawrence Foster
rec. 2017 Philharmonie, Cologne
PENTATONE SACD PTC5168653 [60.35]

For her latest album violin soloist Arabella Steinbacher has chosen an all-Richard Strauss programme containing the Violin Concerto and seven miniatures for violin and orchestra. Steinbacher explains the music of Richard Strauss played a central role in her home life, her parents were great Strauss lovers and she was named after the heroine of his renowned opera Arabella. Strauss’s music was often played in the family home and as Steinbacher’s father was solo-répétiteur for Bayerische Staatsoper he would sometimes have famous opera singers rehearsing at their Munich home. Tellingly Steinbacher has titled her album ‘Aber der Richtige ...’ after Arabella and Zdenka’s act one duet Aber der Richtige, wenn's einen gibt für mich auf dieser Welt (The one who's right for me, if he exists in the world) from the opera Arabella.

Opening the collection is the Violin Concerto written in 1881/82 when the teenage Strauss was a pupil at Ludwigsgymnasium but not studying music. At Bösendorfer Hall, Vienna the same year Strauss used a piano reduction to accompany violin soloist Benno Walter in the first performance of this Violin Concerto. It wasn’t until seven years later that the concerto was first given with orchestra in a concert played by Walter in 1890 at Cologne. The concerto has been recorded a number of times, however it’s never entered the repertoire. Biographer Ernst Krauss wrote that some critics “found it too full of superficial and rather sentimental melody”. With its big opening, reminding me of the Brahms concerto, it’s an ambitious work for a teenager and there is a sweet lyricism to its opening movement Allegro full of Late-Romantic passion. Steinbacher is impressive in the highly reflective Lento, conveying an aching quality and the ardently played Finale: Rondo has its tarantella running headlong. In my view Steinbacher is more than equal to the competition, which comes primarily from Sarah Chang’s 1999 recording with Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Wolfgang Sawallisch recorded at Herkulessaal, Munich on EMI. Another fine account is from soloist Ulf Hoelscher who recorded the score in 1975 with Staatskapelle Dresden under Rudolf Kempe at Lukaskirche, Dresden and remastered on EMI.

There are seven miniatures of other Strauss works, four of which are Lieder, played here in arrangements for violin and orchestra. Two pieces are given as arrangements by Peter von Wienhardt. These are all agreeable miniatures, undemanding where concentration is concerned, yet beautifully designed. Standing out for me is the arrangement of Cäcilie (Cecilia) originally a setting of a Heinrich Hart love poem from Strauss’ set of Vier Lieder, Op. 27; although short it’s a dramatic work laced with passion. Best of all is Wienhardt’s sumptuously orchestrated arrangement of Aber der Richtig, Arabella and Zdenka’s act one duet from Arabella played here with melting beauty. Throughout the collection the assured Steinbacher demonstrates her understanding of the idiom with stylish playing, avoiding overcharging these already lavishly scored works. Hugely impressive is Steinbacher’s flawless intonation, and her violin, the ‘Booth’ Stradivarius (1716), sounds especially mellow in tone. Lawrence Foster conducts warm and expressive playing of high quality from WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln. Recorded under studio conditions at Philharmonie, Cologne this Pentatone SACD played on my standard player has impressive sound, vividly clear with satisfying presence and balance. There is a booklet essay written by Jörg Peter Urbachin which is relatively helpful, though I am left wondering who arranged five of the pieces.

It’s rewarding to be reacquainted with Richard Strauss’ infrequently encountered Violin Concerto and this collection of miniatures. With Arabella Steinbacher in outstanding form it’s hard to imagine finer performances and the disc is beautifully recorded too.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Dave Billinge


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