Munich Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta
Munich Phil MPHIL0026 48:12 mins
This is a 24-hour saga of family life as seen through the eyes of a constantly nodding great-grandfather. Fair enough, Zubin Mehta was 85 when he made this, his second recording of Strauss’s much-maligned symphonic metamorphoses on a handful of themes; but the composer as conductor had just turned 80 in his own very impressive interpretation recorded in Vienna 1944 – and that’s a good six minutes quicker. ‘Lebhaft’ (lively) doesn’t seem to be a word in Mehta’s lexicon here. Taking it slowly allows for clarity of textures in Strauss’s spider-web of sound – and the Munich Philharmonic, especially translucent woodwind, do it proud – but I gave up when the final romp (marked ‘very lively and cheerful’, complete with horns whooping up to near-impossible notes which don’t matter at a fast speed) continued to stagger home.
The best stretches are in the very extended, four-part slow movement: an exquisite solo-woodwind weave at the start of the ‘composer at work’ sequence, a grand if not exactly orgasmic climax for the lovemaking scene, and wistful trills in the Debussyan dream sequence. Lovers of the score might also find it of interest to be able to hear everything in a carefully-taken family quarrel/double fugue, but this performance simply doesn’t bring enough to life of a vivid strip-cartoon. Get hold of Marek Janowski’s recording, and you can have the rarity Die Tageszeiten as well. The hybrid title Strauss chose, with ‘Symphonia’ rather than ‘Sinfonia’, should always be preferred, and I’ve no idea what the cover art is supposed to convey.