STRAUSS Tod und Verklärung. Aus Italien
Sebastian Weigle’s ongoing series of Strauss’s orchestral works – one of several under way from a variety of sources – is unusual for also including several of the lesser-known pieces. An earlier volume gave us the early F minor Symphony; alongside Tod und Verklärung, the latest gives us another chance to hear the composer’s musical tour of Italy, Aus Italien. It’s a key bridge between those earlier symphonic works and the tone poems, a concert-hall rarity that is nevertheless rather well represented on disc.
The virtues of Weigle’s conducting and the playing of his orchestra have been clear in earlier instalments, not least a moving, generous Alpensinfonie (11/16). The orchestral sound is plump and gratifying, and the players offer easy virtuosity and lyrical splendour, sounding thoroughly at home in a composer they often perform in the pit of the Frankfurt Opera. Weigle, the opera house’s music director, conducts both scores with a natural and compelling sense of pacing and symphonic coherence.
These virtues make for a magnificently stirring account of Tod und Verklärung in particular. We get plenty of thrills, even though Oehms’s sound is mellow rather than brilliant, but also an underlying sense of grandeur, of urgent yearning and ardent belief. It is superbly paced, with the work’s many gear changes well judged and seamlessly executed, and with a satisfying weight to the warm and euphonious sonic blend – listen to the lofty, organ-like legato that undergirds the final inexorable build-up. This account doesn’t necessarily offer the fierce focus of some, but I can’t think of a recent version that is more deeply satisfying and musical, certainly not those that have come from Kent Nagano (Farao, 1/18) or Maris Jansons (BR-Klassik, 4/17).
The vignettes of Aus Italien don’t offer Weigle quite as satisfying an assignment but the piece nonetheless gets a terrific performance, mixing richness of sound with finely honed detail. Despite some great music, the piece remains something of an awkward hybrid; but this recording, big-hearted and flooded with sunny warmth, makes as strong a case for it as any – even for the finale that Strauss erroneously based on ‘Funiculì, funiculà’.
A thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding disc, highly recommended.