STRAUSS Violin Concerto. Miniatures (Steinbacher)
What do you do if you’re a violinist wanting to pay homage to Richard Strauss? The composer wrote some fabulous music for the instrument but most of it, from his maturity at least, is woven into the fabric of his tone poems and operas. But Arabella Steinbacher has more reason to honour the composer than many: as the booklet to this release reveals, she grew up the daughter of a vocal coach at the Bavarian State Opera, surrounded by his music; she was named, indeed, after the heroine of his final opera to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
There’s no arguing with her Straussian heritage, then. And there’s little to quibble with either when it comes to Steinbacher’s playing in the early Violin Concerto that takes up the bulk of the disc: warm, eloquent and sprightly, and robustly accompanied by Lawrence Foster and the WDR Orchestra. The problem lies in the concerto itself, an early work of remarkable fluency but little individuality – the young composer offers something like Mendelssohn on steroids, with none of the melodic originality that would soon become a hallmark.
There’s no shortage of Strauss the tunesmith later in the programme, though. After a tender account of the Romanze, pilfered from the cello repertoire, and an enjoyable arrangement of the early piano Scherzino, we get on to meatier fare with a handful of songs. Here Steinbacher is predictably eloquent, the playing classy. But the violin itself struggles to project in what are already string-heavy orchestrations, at a tessitura that sounds exciting when sung but sits far too comfortably in the instrument’s middle range. Similarly, though she double-stops her way through the Arabella extract pleasingly, it just made me long to hear the music in the original line-up of two silver-voiced sopranos.