I am at a quandary over the last few releases from the Chicago Symphony and Bernard Haitink on its CSO Resound label. I’ve been to Orchestra Hall. It’s superb. I’ve heard the CSO there. They’re amazing. I’ve seen Haitink conduct there. He’s wonderful. The sum of all three is very a powerful concoction. Why, then, has the magic not transferred to the recorded domain for the recent Daphnis and now this eagerly awaited Ein Heldenleben?
It gives me no pleasure to report (again) that this famous combination does not deliver. With a great orchestra and conductor, the music almost plays itself. Beautifully orchestrated, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life — the composer, Richard Strauss, being the ‘hero’!) is a party piece for virtuosos. The notes are expertly delivered, but the magic, the spontaneity is not there. The performance is too careful and unexciting, the opposite of Haitink’s other recent (and wonderful) Strauss release, Eine Alpensinfonie with the LSO.
The recording, too, is flat and lifeless. The sound robs the orchestra of some of its vaunted glow. Haitink’s earlier recording with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam had the benefits of an equally superb orchestra in the glorious Concertgebouw hall acoustic. But, the Philips engineers had lots of experience with the somewhat lively sound and gave the orchestra a space in which to shine. Glow, in abundance. Even the LSO Live engineers give the LSO and Haitink a better Straussian lusciousness from the grim confines of the Barbican Hall in London on his latest release.
That said, the quite recent CSO/Haitink Bruckner 7 and Mahler 6 CSO Resound releases sound much better and the performances have panache that is missing from the Daphnis and this Heldenleben. So, we know the magic is there. Just not recently. For completists only.
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