R Strauss: Violin Concerto, plus others

Arabella Steinbacher; WDR Symphony Orchestra/Lawrence Foster (Pentatone)

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R Strauss Violin Concerto; Romanze in F; Allegro molto, Op. 3 (arr P von Wienhardt); Arabella – ‘Aber der Richtige, wenn’s einen gibt’ (arr P von Wienhardt); Lieder – ‘Zueignung’, ‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’, ‘Cäcilie’, ‘Wiegenlied’
Arabella Steinbacher (violin); WDR Symphony Orchestra/Lawrence Foster
Pentatone PTC 5186 653 (hybrid CD/SACD)
60:35 mins

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Richard Strauss’s Violin Concerto was written in 1882 when the precociously talented composer was just 18 years old. Like much of Strauss’s early work, it is rather conservative in style with Max Bruch a strong musical influence, especially in the lyrical slow movement. Mendelssohn is also recalled in the written-out cadenzas in the middle of the first movement and the fast-moving tarantella Finale. Although there are precious few hints of the mature Strauss that would take the musical world by storm seven years later with Don Juan, the Concerto is beautifully put together and already demonstrates the composer’s complete mastery of the orchestra.

Arabella Steinbacher plays it with great conviction and receives powerful support from Lawrence Foster and the WDR Symphony Orchestra. Steinbacher negotiates all the technical hurdles of the first movement and fleet-footed passage work in the Finale with tremendous aplomb, and is particularly beguiling in the slow movement, projecting great warmth of tone that is also very much to the fore in the attractive Romanze, originally conceived for solo cello and orchestra. The rest of this luxuriantly recorded disc is filled out with idiomatic transcriptions. First, we have the witty Little Scherzino, originally for piano solo. Then there is a sequence of well-known songs including the noble and dramatic ‘Zueignung’ and the hauntingly beautiful ‘Wiegenlied’, the melodic lines of which Steinbacher shapes with the sensitivity of a true Lieder singer. A similarly haunting quality pervades the final item, a duet extracted from the opera Arabella performed here with the requisite mixture of poetic lyricism and romantic ardour.

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Erik Levi