R Struass: Eine Alpensinfonie
With the finest Alpine Symphony peaks occupied by Bernard Haitink’s Concertgebouw Orchestra (and LSO), Herbert von Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic and Seiji Ozawa with the Vienna Philharmonic, it looked as if Frank Shipway and his Brazilians were less well equipped for scaling the Straussian heights. Not at all. The night opening is evocatively veiled, the mountain theme especially, and moves organically to its spiritual sunrise. Throughout there’s a natural sense of pace between vigorous clambering and spacious nature panoramas. Shipway moulds his strings to suit every situation, full of appropriate portamentos and swooning glissandos – the last, as the light dies, is especially fine – and pulling out the tonal stops as the Epilogue proudly masses. Clearly projected woodwind are capped by a lovely oboist who stammers amazement on the summit before a fierce but proud central climax. All this in a sound-picture which keeps just the right distance in a piece made for SACD spaciousness; it’s as fine as Andris Nelsons’s recent Birmingham ascent.
There are connections between this orchestral work and the opera Strauss was working on around the same time, the massive fairy-tale Die Frau ohne Schatten. In the composer’s own ‘symphonic fantasia’, though, there is nothing of the nightmarish darkness of the Alpine Symphony’s eerie pre-storm calm. Never mind; Shipway once again shapes the lyric interlude of Act I to perfection and makes the later torrents as noble as he can. I’d be very happy to hear more Strauss from this remarkable team.