R Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks

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LABELS: Reference Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
WORKS: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks; Don Juan; Death and Transfiguration
PERFORMER: Pittsburgh Symphony/Manfred Honeck


Manfred Honeck’s interpretations have huge personality, and mostly in the right way. He’s not averse to Stokowski-style touchings-up if they help the drama: sul ponticello (close to the bridge) strings for Don Juan’s death throes are fine, bass drum applied to the other works less so. Nor is there any one self-regarding approach: while the lover and the dying man take their time in the tenderest moments, this is among the speediest Till Eulenspiegels on record. Aggressive, too: Honeck likes to underline something pathological about his hero’s pranks once the famous horn solo has stepped softly out of the mists of time and been crowned by the celebrated tongue-poking D clarinet.

The poetry is intense, yielding in Don Juan the most beautiful oboe cantilena ever. Perhaps this really is Donna Anna as Pushkin perceived her, the true love of the libertine’s life. In the second tone poem, a transfiguration after death builds to a terrific climax and fades beautifully. Some of Honeck’s vocalisations at high points are distracting, but you can forgive him that when the first full realisation of Death and Transfiguration’s so-called ‘ideology’ motif unfurls. The orchestra plays passionately and luminously, with the brass thrusting when they need to be. With this and Roth’s series running neck and neck, the recorded Strauss celebrations are going well in 150th-anniversary year.


David Nice