Renée Fleming may get the pictorial star billing on the cover, but she’s very much on an assured level footing with Christian Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic in the first half of this Richard Strauss programme. You can immediately hear the classiness of the orchestral support in the spacious clarinet arpeggios that herald the first song, ‘Befreit’, and Thielemann coaxes a sense of hallowed mystery in a relative rarity, the ‘Song of the Priestess to Apollo’. For good measure there’s a dash of operatic glamour from Arabella: the heroine’s reflections before the carnival ball, with its heady waltz dispelling the introspection.
The setting here is not the Austrian capital’s handsome Musikvereinssaal but the starker surroundings of Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus, where last summer Thielemann also conducted Strauss’s massive fairy-tale opera Die Frau ohne Schatten. An Alpine Symphony, its orchestral contemporary, also needs the hall’s space, especially in this challengingly broad interpretation. Thielemann’s journey up the mountain is more a question of inner feeling than outward tone-painting, and could do with a dash of the exuberance which Strauss builds into the score. But the summit sequence and the epilogue rival Herbert von Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic for tonal opulence. The players’ expressions give little away about the white heat within. Still, the cameras always know what to pinpoint in order to highlight visually Strauss’s most ingenious orchestral passages.