Strauss: Des Esels Schatten

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COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Des Esels Schatten
PERFORMER: Andreas Kohn, Eberhard Buechner, Mette Ejsing, Bodil Arnesen, Peter Ustinov; Berlin RSO & Chorus/Karl Anton Rickenbacher
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6548-2
This curious little hybrid fleshes out the bones of a Singspiel left unfinished by Strauss at his death in 1949. It was commissioned in 1947 from the 82-year-old composer by the headmaster of his grandson’s Benedictine school as ‘an outline of your musical world… an initiation to your greater works’. Strauss’s sketches were duly completed by the school’s music director, Karl Haussner, and first performed there in 1964.

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For this premiere recording, Peter Ustinov links the musical numbers with his own droll account of Wieland’s satirical tale of a legal squabble about whether anyone paying for a donkey ride is also entitled to its shadow without further payment. There are intimations of Straussian joie de vivre in the overture and 14 little numbers, especially in the judge’s waltz-time oration, but Rickenbacher’s orchestra sounds uncomfortably larger than the chamber ensemble envisaged by Haussner. Delightfully sung by an excellent adult cast, you’re left wondering how the work could ever be performed by children. Full marks for notes reproducing Strauss’s correspondence with the school and his two librettists. Patrick Carnegy