STRAUSS Horn Concerto (Robert Langbein)
Christian Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapelle give us early and late Strauss in this beautifully programmed set, recorded during concerts marking the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2014, and released to commemorate the 70th anniversary of his death, which falls this year. The set also celebrates Strauss’s long association with Dresden itself and at its centre are two works for wind ensemble, premiered decades apart, by musicians of the city’s Tonkünstlerverein: the E flat Serenade of 1881, which launched Strauss’s career after it was taken up by Hans von Bülow; and the Sonatina in F, written in 1943 while Strauss was convalescing from repeated bouts of influenza, whence the title From an Invalid’s Workshop.
Neither is quite a masterpiece, though the Mozartian Serenade is a work of great beauty and charm, striking in its melodic surety. The Sonatina blends wit with nostalgia – Norman Del Mar detects within it allusions to the Burleske of 1885/86 and the 1900 opera Feuersnot – but suffers from occasional prolixity, particularly in the finale, where Strauss’s leisurely treatment of his thematic material can turn discursive. Thielemann can’t quite disguise the flaw, though he judiciously avoids hurtling through the enormous final coda, marked Presto in the score, focusing instead on tying up the threads of the somewhat lengthy musical argument. The opening movement is deftly done, the central Romance and Minuet at once elegant and deeply felt. The Serenade, meanwhile, sounds exquisite. The playing in both works is exemplary.
Particularly striking in the Sonatina are the long-breathed horn solos, beautifully done by the Staatskapelle’s principal Robert Langbein, who also gives the performance of the demanding First Horn Concerto, with which the set opens. Written in 1883 for the Dresden-based virtuoso Oscar Franz, it reveals the influence of Schumann in its cyclic form, while the Andante’s principal theme strikingly prefigures Ariadne’s ‘Ein Schönes war’. Langbein’s lyricism and panache suit the work down to the ground, while Thielemann’s conducting is admirably taut yet supple. It’s a superb performance.
The set closes, meanwhile, with Metamorphosen. Thielemann adopts spacious tempos throughout; placed beside Rudolf Kempe’s 1973 recording (EMI/Warner, 12/92), also with the Dresden Staatskapelle, the opening phrases seem unduly slow and comparatively detached, though the performance gradually gains in power and momentum as it goes, and its cumulative impact is considerable. The playing is impeccable, both in its richness and detail. The recordings, meanwhile, are superbly engineered, though you can hear occasional platform movement and some key clatter in the wind ensemble works.