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CLASSICAL  July 2005

CLASSICAL July 2005

Subject:

Zinman/Tonhalle 7CD Box of R. Strauss Orchestral Music

From:

Scott Morrison <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 10 Jul 2005 08:55:16 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Strauss: Orchestral Works
David Zinman, Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra
Arte Nova 74321 98495 2    7 CDs

5/5 stars

A Worthy Successor to  Kempe's Orchestral Strauss

For nigh on thirty years there has been only one collection of Richard
Strauss orchestral works that garnered almost univeral praise, that of
Rudolf Kempe and the Dresden Staatskapelle.  I've owned the set in both
its LP and CD incarnations and have admired it immoderately.  Now there
is a new competitor, and it's a worthy one: David Zinman leading the
Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra.  In making a comparison of the two sets we
must first make clear the differences in contents.  The Kempe set contains
nine CDs, the Zinman seven.  Zinman's set does not include, as Kempe's
does, the horn concertos, the Burleske, the Duet Concertino, the
Panathenaenzug, the Violin Concerto, a Kempe-arranged Rosenkavalier
Suite, 'Le bourgeois gentilhomme' suite, excerpts from 'Josephslegende,'
the 'Schlagobers' waltz, the 'Dance Suite' based on music of Couperin,
or 'Dance of the Seven Veils' from 'Salome.' Kempe's set does not, unlike
Zinman's, include 'Festliches Prelude,' the cello-and-orchestra 'Romance,'
the late 'Wind Serenade in E Flat,' and the extremely major 'Four Last
Songs.' With the exception of the 'Four Last Songs,' the 'Burleske,' and
the horn concertos most collectors would not particularly miss any of
the relatively minor works that appear in only one of the sets.  And of
course there are individual recordings of most of these works that have
real merit, e.g., various of the tone poems conducted by Solti or Karajan,
say.

In recent years Zinman and the Tonhalle have given us some superior
recordings, e.g., the complete Beethoven and Schumann symphonies.
And it is now clear that under Zinman the Tonhalle has become one of
the great European orchestras.  It may not have the long association
with the music of Strauss that Kempe's Dresden Staatskapelle has had --
after all they premiered some of these works 100 years ago.  But it
certainly can, as an orchestra qua orchestra, stand comparison with the
more storied ensemble.  And it is clear that Zinman has the measure of
Strauss's music.  His approach vis-a-vis Kempe's is a bit leaner -- inner
voices and textures are amazingly clear and clean -- and yet a bit more
leisurely.  There are no moments that I can recall where the music sounds
driven, something that occasionally happens with Kempe.  Comparison of
timings bears this observation out; almost all Zinman's timings are
longer than Kempe's.  In spite of the longer timings, Zinman, a rhythmically
alert conductor, never imparts a sense of ennui or lethargy.  'Slower'
does not mean 'boring' or 'sluggish.' Further, Zinman probes some of the
lesser works -- 'Aus Italien,' say -- and finds more meaning than Kempe
does.  Another early work, 'Macbeth,' almost never played in orchestral
concerts, comes alive in Zinman's hands.  It gives the first evidence
(as opposed to the earlier 'Aus Italien') that Strauss is his own man
with his own methods, his own sound.  This performance suggests (as
opposed to Kempe's) that it really ought to feature more on concert
programs.

All the performances here have something genuine and even moving to
say about the music.  Many of the them stand well above that level.  I
do not hesitate to say that one of Strauss's supreme masterpieces, the
late 'Metamorphosen,' is given one of the greatest performances I've ever
heard.  It is almost heartbreaking in this radiantly beautiful performance.
It is coupled with two of Strauss's other late masterpieces, the 'Oboe
Concerto and 'Four Last Songs.' Neither of the soloists, Zurich's principal
oboist Simon Fuchs or soprano Melanie Diener is well-known but each gives
a notable performance.  I particularly like Diener's dark, rich sound
and her sensitivity to Hesse's and Eichendorff's texts.  The reappearance
of the main theme from 'Tod und Verklaerung' at the end of 'Abendrot'
brought tears to my eyes.  It is hard not to hear this as Strauss's
commentary on his own imminent death.

One nice touch is the coupling on one CD, the first I ever recall,
of 'Sinfonia domestica' and its strange companion piece, 'Parergon zur
"Sinfonia domestica",' the latter a left-hand piano concerto based on
the child's theme from the 'Sinfonia.' It was written at a time when
Strauss's son was facing a life-threatening illness, some twenty years
after he was portrayed as 'The Child' in the 'Sinfonia.' Swedish pianist
Roland Pontinen (the only well-known soloist in this collection) plays
beautifully.

The tone poems for which Strauss was initially best-known -- Ein
Heldenleben, Tod und Verklaerung, Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegels lustige
Streiche, Also sprach Zarathustra, Sinfonia domestica -- are given
wonderful performances.  'Don Juan' has all the requisite cockiness,
'Till Eulenspiegel' the impishness, and 'Zarathustra' the orchestral
richness and depth (oh, those added horns and trumpets!) one could ask
for.  'Ein Heldenleben's' complicated counterpoint is brought out cleanly,
never turning muddy as is sometimes the case.  'Don Quixote,' featuring
the Tonhalle's principal cellist, Thomas Grossenbacher, and violist,
Michel Rouilly, does not quite reach the exalted level of the recording
by Paul Tortelier and Max Rostal in the Kempe set, but it is a beautiful
reading nonetheless.  I had never heard 'Romance in F Major' for cello
and orchestra.  It is a nine-minute beauty, Grossenbacher's cello here
singing it lyrically, and one could only wish it was played more in
concert.  One real plus for this set is the recorded sound given the
Tonhalle by Arte Nova's producer Chris Hazell and engineer Simon Eadon.
It is clearly superior to that of the older Kempe set.  When you add it
all up -- the superb performances, the lifelike sound, the budget price
(in the US, something less than $6 per disc) -- this set is a must-have,
even for those who already own the Kempe set, but particularly for those
who do not have a very large collection of Strauss orchestral works.

TT=ca. 8 hrs

Strongest recommendation.

Scott Morrison

Review at
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000BZNMM/classicalnetA/

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