Andrew Davis conducts Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Performing Strauss

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: ABC
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss
WORKS: Ein Heldenleben; Intermezzo – Four Symphonic Interludes
PERFORMER: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 481 2425  

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Two modes of musical autobiography come together for the first time, to the best of my knowledge, on one fascinating CD: Strauss as the tongue-in-cheek hero of Ein Heldenleben, and the skat-playing, long-suffering husband of his domestic marriage opera Intermezzo. Central to both is his wife of variable moods, Pauline, and the deepest music on the disc actually belongs to his most loving portrait of her in Intermezzo’s ‘Dream by the Fireside’. Andrew Davis, now a Straussian master when before he was merely an efficient button-presser, knows exactly how to shape towards the big climax, Melbourne trumpets making an especially strong contribution both here and later as the war-mongering chief critic of the symphonic poem.

Though there’s lovely string-quintet work in the third Intermezzo interlude, a witty depiction of an urbane card-game, the other big solo belongs to the violinist playing the ‘hero’s helpmate’, very feminine and warm despite the capriciousness in the hands of MSO leader Dale Bartrop. With some beguiling principal wind contributions, above all from the first oboist, the relatively few chamber-musical moments of Heldenleben sound very lovely, and the big moments have impressive lower-brass weight. Never overdone, this is a golden-mean Heldenleben. I’d question the appropriateness of the pomp in the cover’s Australian painting – definitely not what this mock-epic is all about – but it’s good to see specimens from Melbourne’s National Gallery Victoria on the covers so far. A worthy companion to the first release of Also sprach Zarathustra; I hope there will be more.

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David Nice