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R Strauss: The Happy Workshop etc

Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble/George Vosburgh (Reference)

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

R Strauss
Sonatina No. 2, The Happy Workshop; Serenade, Op. 7
Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble/George Vosburgh
Reference FR-745   50:33 mins


You may well ask what German composer could be happy in his artistic workshop as the Second World War drew to a close. Yet Richard Strauss had a remarkable ability to root himself in the German culture he felt those ‘barbarians’ the Nazis had done their best to destroy. In paying homage to Mozart’s wind serenades, the Gran Partita especially, he pleased himself and left behind a number of what have been called ‘Indian summer’ scores which keep on the blithe side of life.

The Second Sonatina has its dark side, intimated in the first movement and at its most uneasily chromatic in the introduction to the finale. But otherwise it’s the most delicious homage possible to the 18th century filtered through very personal sensibilities. Its high style and lacy demands are not, perhaps, ideal for young musicians like the ones from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University who’ve just recorded the work under veteran conductor George Vosburgh. To be honest, I’ve heard so much better from youthful European ensembles. I wouldn’t mind the fluffs and rough edges, but the spirit of song that has to permeate the work, and keep the long stretches of the outer movements afloat, seems wholly absent; there’s no vocal phrasing here. Dynamics are mostly middle-range until we get to the very end. The finale actually works better as amiable drift than punchy reiteration, and the mellifluousness of the early Serenade is pleasant enough. Good sound captures the lower colours well. But this disc isn’t competitive in the commercial recording market.

David Nice

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