STRAUSS Eine Alpensinfonie
Kent Nagano’s recent recording of Eine Alpensinfonie (Farao, 9/16) claimed to offer a considered, unbombastic approach to Strauss’s final, grandly symphonic tone-poem. That it did, in some ways, but it’s this recording from Sebastian Weigle and his Frankfurt orchestra (usually at home in the pit of the city’s opera house, of which Weigle is Music Director) that makes a more persuasive case for such an approach.
Weigle’s is not an Alpine Symphony in the wide-screen, Technicolor mode but a performance defined by a wonderful lyrical generosity, complete control of the work’s 50-minute span and orchestral playing in which every note seems to reflect the drama that is being played out – physical turning metaphysical as the work progresses.
And although this is the fourth volume in a survey of Strauss orchestral music from Weigle and his band, it’s informed as much by their performances, also captured by Oehms, of Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten: those scores, as products of the 1910s, are closer to Eine Alpensinfonie than any of the earlier tone-poems. We’re also reminded that Strauss himself conducted this orchestra in his new work in 1915 (Oehms’s booklet reproduces the playbill); you sense it’s music that comes naturally to them today.
But while Weigle’s approach is more symphonic than cinematic, that’s not to say it lacks colour and excitement, even if he fails to grab the attention in the early episodes as much as some – and Oehms’s sound, though round and full, lacks a certain brilliance. But once we get through the early scenery, from ‘Auf dem Gletscher’ (tr 11) on, Weigle keeps a firm, compelling grip that hardly lets up. The Summit offers a nicely rounded vision of contentment, while the subsequent evocations of tension and angst are built up expertly (listen to Weigle turn the screw in the last bars of ‘Vision’). The final minutes communicate just the right sort of sublime contentment, too, and I wholeheartedly approve of the principal horn’s unapologetic way with the extended solo in ‘Ausklang’, particularly around the 1'45" mark. Highly recommended.