LABELS: MDG Gold
WORKS: Sonatina No. 2 in E flat (Fröhliche Werkstatt); Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (arr. Carp)
PERFORMER: Ensemble Villa Musica
CATALOGUE NO: 304 1172-2
Mozart presides over the two wind sonatinas Strauss composed in his infirm if far from desiccated old age; but in the Second, played here and more often known by its afterthought-title of Symphony for Wind, Strauss’s other household god Wagner lurks significantly in the undergrowth. Even without the booklet-note writer pointing out the parallels between the cry of the Rhinemaidens for their lost gold which stalks the outer movements and Strauss’s own lament for a lost culture, Ensemble Villa Musica’s uniquely weighty interpretation would be enough to authenticate signals of distress. The miracle, of course, is that Strauss extracts himself from his self-made murk so airily; both in the rococo march which follows the darker subject-matter of the first movement and the sprightly Allegro transfiguring the gloom of the finale’s slow introduction, these players lighten up with superb quick-change artistry. Most memorable, though, are the darker colours of the lower winds, richly captured by the truthful recording. You may prefer the more characterful grace which sets Heinz Holliger and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe apart from the rest (Philips, long vanished), especially in the galant Andantino, but EVM’s proud, anchored dignity here makes a persuasive alternative, surely the best currently available.
The merry wag of Strauss’s most woodwind-friendly tone poem has been slimmed down before, albeit much mutilated, in the arch Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders – not to be confused with David M Carp’s ingenious, absolutely complete arrangement for wind quintet and piano (here a slightly reticent Kalle Randalu). The famous solos all remain in the hands of their rightful owners, and Till’s exuberant high noon has plenty of flesh and clarity. It’s a likeable interloper, but presumably MDG’s next volume will serve up an all-authentic Strauss windfest. David Nice