Bernard Haitink has been one of my favourite Strauss conductors for as long as I can remember. Beginning with his seminal recordings with the Concertegebouw, Haitink knows his way around the vast scores, whether the youthful, ebullient Don Juan to the grandiosity of Alpine mountaineering or the arrogant musical suggestions of a hero’s life.
Strauss’ Opus 64, Eine Alpensinfonie was written in 1915 and was his last ‘tone poem’. Although labelled a Symphony, the Alpensinfonie is program music at its most pure. A clamber up an Alpine mountain with stops at meadows, glaciers, pastures, the summit and down the other side through mists while dodging storms. Quite a journey. And Haitink and his LSO heroes give us a hell of a ride.
Much like the similar sized Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), the Alpine Symphony can overstay its welcome. One caustic critic called it ‘cinema music’ at its premier in Berlin (conducted by Strauss). That said, the fifty minutes of music contains some of Strauss’ most opulent and beautiful writing. Is there anybody better composing musical epilogues than Strauss? As such, the final three sections, Sunset, Waning Tones and Night are especially beautiful. Indeed, heartbreaking, and easily worth the price of the CD.
Happily, Haitink takes a brisk view of the travel sections past the cows and into the mist. He lingers a little at the summit, and why not when you have a body of men and woman like the London Symphony Orchestra at your disposal to make you feel on top of the musical world?
And, this is why you need this release. The playing of the LSO is magnificent throughout — flawless woodwinds (the tuning in the epilogue is a miracle in itself), sheen on the upper strings, fulsome basses and a to-die-for brass section. Special mention must go to Rod Franks, Principal Trumpet. His superhuman efforts make for thrilling effect and his high E rings like few others. Amazing!
Considering the recorded space, the deadly Barbican Hall, the warmth and detail the engineers capture are wonderful. Good organ, too, for the sub lovers. I heard the superb standard CD, but you can also hear it on SACD and from downloads via iTunes. Highly recommended.
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