Richard Strauss: Rosenkavalier Suite; Till Eulenspiegel; Vier Letzte Lieder

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R. STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier: Suite. Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. 4 Last Songs Mariss Jansons, cond; Anja Harteros (sop); Bavarian RSO BR 900707 (63:33)

In the program notes, Mariss Jansons is quoted as saying in reference to Richard Strauss that “His music has accompanied me all my life and still stirs me very deeply.” Despite that, his interpretations are curiously understated. The Rosenkavalier Suite is beautifully, almost reverentially played, but is surprisingly subdued. The explosive opening and buildup to Octavian’s grand entry in act II lack passion, exhilaration, and breathless anticipation. Jansons’ pacing is consistently slow to the point where the “Presentation of the Rose” sequence almost loses momentum. The same is true of the waltzes. They sound lovely, but all of this lyrical and slow music tends to drag and lack dynamic contrast, especially in this suite (as opposed to Antál Doráti’s version with its well-positioned and more extensive inclusion of the comical music that opens act III). The Trio is gorgeous at the by now expected very slow speed (how can it not be?). The temptation to linger over this sublime music must be nearly irresistible. However, this Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie sound like they are on Valium.

Till Eulenspiegel is similarly relaxed, slow, and finely nuanced. The overall effect is light and balletic (not a bad thing). Jansons’s Till is a very lighthearted prankster. In this case, ample contrast is provided by some incisive and powerful bass drum thwacks. It is a pleasure to hear the flawless horn and woodwind soloists in this incredibly refined orchestra.

If you are sympathetic toward the Jansons/Anja Harteros interpretation of the Four Last Songs , this will be for you because they do it really well. Harteros is unfailingly pitch-perfect and her approach is almost operatic. Jansons’ tempos are middle of the road, but the general impression is that they are swifter. In contrast to Der Rosenkavalier , he doesn’t linger here. The execution of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is truly amazing throughout this recording. I can’t remember hearing Strauss’s remarkable orchestration being presented with this degree of clarity that sounds more cool and transparent than dense and lush.

The sound is solid without ever being overtly flashy. Audiophiles may complain that this is the wrong way to record Strauss, but the engineering does successfully complement the laid-back performances. There is a good compromise between realistic orchestral balance and fine instrumental detail. Harteros is miked very closely and appears to be in a brighter acoustic setting than the orchestra.

These performances will appeal to anyone who wants immaculate and well-controlled orchestral and vocal execution. Clearly, this is not an interpretive approach to Strauss that will appeal to everyone. It works best in the Four Last Songs , which are indeed very special. Even though the Rosenkavalier Suite sounds a little cool and sedate, you still get the opportunity to hear Harteros and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra work their magic in music that is clearly in their blood.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen

Product Description:

  • Release Date: August 31, 2010

  • Catalog Number: 900707

  • UPC: 4035719007077

  • Label: BR-KLASSIK

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Richard Strauss

  • Conductor: Mariss Jansons

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Anja Harteros