R Strauss Ein Heldenleben; Burleske
Denis Kozhukhin (piano); Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Marc Albrecht
Pentatone PTC 5186 617 (hybrid CD/SACD) 64:51 mins
Not content with playing second fiddle to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic under its fine chief conductor Marc Albrecht throws down a resonant gauntlet right at the start of this Hero’s Life. That lower-string unison with bassoons and horns packs quite a punch, aided by a typically truthful and dynamically wide-ranging Pentatone recording, and if the violins don’t quite have the personality of the very best, they help Albrecht in his ineffable shaping towards all the big climaxes. Concertmaster and leader Vadim Tsibulevsky is perfect of intonation in the mock-heroic portrait of the composer/hero’s wife/helpmate, and the woodwind critics spit out their venom more consistently than most. With balances clear throughout, the best is last, a beautifully shaded transition to the noblest of homecomings. There’s little sign that Albrecht sees any of the potential parody in this trickily poised monster tone-poem, but on its own terms, the sleekness works well.
Strauss originally conceived a serious ‘Hero and World’ with Don Quixote as a ‘satyr-play’ along the lines of the fourth drama in the ancient Athenian festivals. The satyr-play here is the preface, the Brahmsian Burleske with which a younger Strauss pre-empted the Till Eulenspiegel side of his character (you could argue that’s there in Brahms, too). Dashing momentum is announced by pianist Denis Kozhukhin in his first glittering sally and there are some thoughtful moments later on in the rather protracted form. Burleske has had perhaps more recordings than it really merits, but this is certainly one of the best.