STRAUSS Eine Alpensinfonie (Orozco-Estrada)
This is the third Richard Strauss release from Andrés Orozco-Estrada and his Frankfurt orchestra on Pentatone. I enjoyed their Heldenleben and Macbeth (11/16), and their Salome showed the Columbian to be a fascinating and often compelling Straussian. The impression is reinforced by this moving new Alpensinfonie. Orozco-Estrada favours an expansive approach: at over 55 minutes, this is one of the very longest performances on record. Again, there’s a smoothness in the playing and in Pentatone’s warm, detailed engineering that risks robbing the score of some of its vividness: these Alps are massive, certainly, but perhaps a little short on cragginess.
After a grandly imposing sunrise, some of the score’s early stages can also initially feel a little leisurely (there’s not much urgency when we get to the ‘Eintritt zum Wald’, for example) or a little safe. But Orozco-Estrada conjures up the work’s many images vividly, and can step on the accelerator excitingly, as in the lead-up to a sparklingly fresh ‘Wasserfall’. Again, ‘Durch Dickicht und Gestrüpp’ feels a little studied at first, but the tension is built up well as we approach the Glacier itself, which sounds properly formidable. The subsequent ‘Gefahrvolle Augenblicke’ are reminiscent of this team’s excellent Salome in their dramatic vividness.
As we reach the summit, its fine oboe solo followed by broad brass proclamations, Orozco-Estrada’s interpretative strategy becomes clear. This is a reading of glorious warmth and grandeur – as much in terms of what he’s communicating in his reading as the essential sound of the performance itself. It requires a certain patience from the listener, especially listeners who will have heard Vladimir Jurowski’s recent recording (a whisker under 45 minutes) or indeed know Strauss’s own remarkable, similarly swift account.
But Orozco-Estrada’s approach feels no less validly Straussian, setting out the work less as a final tone poem than as a late utterance in a noble symphonic tradition. ‘Vision’ ratchets up the tension with almost Brucknerian patience, for example; and, although others have delivered more visceral storms, the final pages are almost unbearably moving in their lyrical expansiveness. Orozco-Estrada’s players maybe can’t match the sunlit richness of Karajan’s BPO (and his principal horn loses out to his supremely eloquent counterpart in Sebastian Weigle’s account with his Frankfurt band), but sincerity and affection shine through in every wonderful bar. Not a conventional Alpensinfonie, perhaps, but a glorious slow-burn interpretation that all Straussians will want to hear.