Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life). The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Thomas Beecham; Hi-Q Records Supercuts 180 gram vinyl.
We'll give Supercuts the best Heldenleben sound award but also laziest, poorly designed cover. How long did it take to cobble that together? A last minute afterthought, surely? Each original EMI cover is much better and reissues from Biddulph and Testament.
Enough of that nonsense, let's get to the glories of this reissue, the performance and sound.
I'm ashamed to say I did not know this recording. I've played the piece so many times, the middle 'war' section, which goes on far too long, put me off buying many recordings.
I've known the work since I was a baby. My father, a Strauss expert, had a recording with what I felt was a very scary cover with a scary man on it. Turns out it was von Karajan, who, it turns out became my own Strauss hero.
Beecham's brusqueness (and conducting technique) on the podium and his light hearted sense of humour can give the impression of an unsophisticated musician without the gravitas to infuse great works with personal greatness. This assessment could not be more wrong. His Mozart, Schubert and Haydn gems alone put those criticisms to bed. And then there's his Delius and Berlioz. Benchmark recordings for both composers' greatest works.
He brings the same genius to Strauss. Tempos are flawless as is the playing, save for some wobbly intonation by leader Steven Staryk at the very quiet, difficult sustained notes of the violin solo in the epilogue. Other than that small blemish, the Royal Philharmonic plays magnifenctly (as does Staryk in the lengthy solos).
The recording, as befits a reissue of such distinction (and cost), is magnificent. Strings are silky, brass are incredibly powerful and woodwinds chatter brilliantly in the 'critics' section. The famous opening of cellos, basses and eight horns is in perfect balance. For once, you can hear the three distinct orchestral timbres. Usually, and mainly because of the orchestration, it's a blur.
It is another Kingsway Hall beauty -- recorded on April 17 & 22, 1958, produced by Victor Olof and Peter Andry and engineered by Robert Gooch.
Highly recommended and worth every penny of the USD$ 34.99 asking price.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Ein Heldenleben "A Hero's Life"
1. The Hero
2. His Adversaries
3. His Companion
4. His prowess in battle
5. His peaceful labours
6. His retirement and life's fulfilment