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R Strauss: Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegel etc (Cleveland/Welser-Möst)

The Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst (Cleveland Orchestra)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

R Strauss
Macbeth; Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
The Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
Cleveland Orchestra TCO0004 (CD/SACD)   45:45 mins

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‘There is not one idea which does not get its neck broken by the speed with which the next one lands on its head’. The notorious critic Hanslick’s verdict on Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel was more flattering than he realised, and a virtuosic Cleveland Orchestra, with shrilling clarinets outstanding, responds brilliantly to Franz Welser-Möst’s justifiable hell-for-leather tour of the medieval prankster’s short-lived exploits. Apply it to Don Juan, though, and you’re in trouble. This lover barely has time to pull up his trousers before moving on to the next exploit. Yes, these adventures need impetus, too, but the crucial conductor’s gift of rubato, giving a little bit more space here and there, is nowhere to be found; the sex as well as the swagger is robotic. I’d still prefer Welser-Möst’s quarter of an hour to Andris Nelsons’s self-indulgent-and-lumpy 20 minutes, but not much.

The usual companion for these succinct masterpieces is the longer Death and Transfiguration, but Welser-Möst goes instead for the lunatic, the lover and the warrior in the shape of the more uncertain homage to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. His good ear for balance and a certain litheness in the performance tone down the bluster, and the music for Lady Macbeth, much the best in the score, is appropriately eerie. But even here we tire of the endless clambering sequences, and long for the over-ambitious, murderous protagonist’s demise. If it’s to be done at all, it had better be done like this. So the latest Cleveland Macbeth and Till both deserve a place on the shelves; Don Juan, sadly not.

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David Nice