R. Strauss Alpine Symphony

Author: 
Guest

R. Strauss Alpine Symphony

  • (Eine) Alpensinfonie, 'Alpine Symphony'

The Alpensinfonie is no longer a rarity on disc, but there are still grounds for preferring the famous Karajan version to subsequent digital rivals, especially in this successful remastering. Karajan's sureness of line is always impressive in Strauss and, while the BPO is not at its immaculate best, there is some magnificent playing here. The sound remains rather fierce, but a number of passages have been substantially remixed and the effect is certainly less constricted overall. Perhaps it doesn't matter that the horn theme which floats in with the (still blinding) ''Sonnenaufgang'' (track 2) is not quite aligned with the strings. More worrying is the subtle transformation of the opening phrase of ''Der Ansteig'' (track 3): whereas we used to experience it 'from the bottom up' with the balance favouring the basses, we hear more cellos now—and most of them fluff the B flat! With everything brought into sharper relief, such points of detail did bother me just a little, notwithstanding the undoubted breadth and majesty of Karajan's conception.
Those who find DG's packaging off-puttingly glitzy will probably recoil from Erato's glowing tribute to the Chicago Symphony tradition as penned by Daniel Barenboim himself. His Bruckner cycle for Teldec shows him wonderfully at ease with the ancien regime sonority of the BPO; in Chicago, he is, I think, less successful at recapturing the tensile ardour of Reiner's Strauss. Erato's engineering is partly to blame. The orchestra is well-balanced, yet textures are not really immediate or lush enough, lending an intriguing chamber music quality to the more restrained passages, which may or may not have been Barenboim's intention.
Inevitably, after Karajan, Barenboim's Alpen-sinfonie seems underpowered and frankly sectional. Cumulative tension is low. Phrases saunter untidily to their close. Even where Barenboim's care is especially evident, the results do not always convince. Taking his cue from such markings as the Wieder etwas drangend after fig. 28 (track 4, 2'02'') or the fliessend at fig. 86 (track 12, 4'15''), he can hurry the music on with indecent haste. By contrast, he holds up events on the summit with an unmarked fermata four bars after fig. 80 (track 12, 1'58''). The storm sequence is notable for an unusually convincing wind machine and unpleasantly brittle trumpets. The ''Ausklang'' is merely nondescript. As intimated by Michael Kennedy, Previn's naturally recorded Vienna Philharmonic for Telarc really does floor the opposition in the closing stages: Kempe's wonderful EMI performance is undermined by poor intonation here; and Karajan, tiring now and rather short on Gemutlichkeit, has overlooked the sort of exposed horn split that cries out for corrective surgery.
It should be borne in mind that Barenboim offers a considerable bonus with the symphonic fantasy from Die Frau. Again though, he seems a slightly reticent Straussian, muting (literally?) the vulgarity inherent in Strauss's allocation of vocal lines to sundry brass instruments. It is difficult to make a firm recommendation for the main work. Karajan demands to be heard and Kempe, easier to love, is, of course, available only as part of a three-disc set. Sample Barenboim's generous programme by all means: you may find his music-making more rewarding than I did. He is exceptionally lucid, undeniably cool.'

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2019