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Strauss' AscentMay 26 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Conjuring pictorial imagery by purely musical means can be a tricky business. Quite often one or the other element of the equation comes up short. Nonetheless, so-called program music has attracted composers for longer than we may realize. This subset of composition found one of its most ardent champions in Richard Strauss. His justly celebrated masterpieces are well known to every music lover. His last essay in this regard, the ambitiously constructed Alpine Symphony of 1915 (really an elaborate tone poem) inhabits a slightly lower rung. Clearly it has fared more successfully via recordings than in the concert hall. Its extravagant scoring of nearly 150 players (quadruple winds, a massive brass complement, extensive percussion etc) is primarily responsible as is perhaps its arcane narrative underpinnings. But let's be honest. The inspired lyricism of Don Juan, Ein Heldenleben, Till Eulenspiegel, Death and Transfiguration, Don Quixote and Also Sprach is much less in evidence here. Nevertheless the Alpine Symphony is a major achievement brimming with extraordinary colors and masterful contrapuntal writing. There are at least 50 recordings currently available including Haitink's latest traversal with the LSO. Of these, a handful merit serious consideration. To this select list can now be added Bernard Haitink's superb 1985 version originally released by Philips. Maestro Haitink's acute sense of line, balance and textural clarity are quite compelling. All too often a large scale work like this brings out the worst hyperbolic impulses in lesser hands. The famed Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and its equally revered Grote Zaal residence are the perfect conduit for Haitink's warm, poetic vision. Plaudits to Newton Classics for restoring an important recording to the catalog.