Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
Pentatone PTC 5186 802 (CD/SACD) 48:58 mins
Richard Strauss’s last and most opulent symphonic poem, composed 1911-15, still throws down a well-padded gauntlet to state-of-the-art engineering. Having the label Pentatone in charge inspired confidence in advance to this present listener, and this indeed turns out to be the new benchmark for this work in sound: you have a seat at an ideal position from the orchestra in Berlin’s beautiful Konzerthaus, where two performances were given in February 2019. I started the listening at a high sound level, thinking I’d need to adjust at the burst of sunrise, but the full ensemble remains at an ideal distance. (I’ve never forgotten a guest I took to a performance in London’s Royal Festival Hall who described the work as being ‘like an angry rice pudding’; never the case here!)
But did conductor Vladimir Jurowski need to record the work again after his spectacular London Philharmonic Orchestra two-disc set allowing us to compare the work with a skilful selection from the near-contemporary opera Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow)? The production here gives one good reason; the other is the pacing, never rushed as in some interpretations, but absolutely remarkable as the mountaineers stand on the summit. The tension and release, the opulence of the long lines, bear testament to Jurowski’s truly great conducting.