COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: Hänssler Classic
ALBUM TITLE: Tone Poems 3
WORKS: Also sprach Zarathustra; Aus Italien
PERFORMER: SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/François-Xavier Roth
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.320
Sir Andrew Davis’s recent Melbourne Zarathustra was an interpretation in a thousand, capturing this extraordinary creation’s shock of the new (reviewed December 2014). François-Xavier Roth’s is merely very good. The unobtrusive star of the show is the Freiburg Concert Hall recording, so spacious and natural. Apart from an occasional lack of warmth in the strings, the orchestra sounds first-rate. Roth knows how to mould the crucial climaxes without hitting too hard and letting the brass underline richer textures without dominating (though some solo trumpet lines could be clearer). The only problem comes with the way Strauss’s ‘superman’ hits the heights: his waltz is tasteful rather than lilting-exuberant. Roth tries too hard to be metaphysical instead of enjoying a high-level joke.
The emotional straitjacket is more apparent in Strauss’s first big orchestral score of note, the ‘Symphonic Fantasia’ Aus Italien. This Janus-headed work looks back to Liszt, Brahms and Mendelssohn, but also forward in several themes to Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel and even the Symphonia Domestica. Roth sculpts the longer, slower phrases beautifully – the most imaginative movement, ‘On the beach at Sorrento’, has never sounded lovelier – but does little with the long-windedness of the ‘Ruins of Rome’ scherzo and fatally misses the crazy zest of ‘Neapolitan Folklife’; quite apart from Strauss’s mistaking Denza’s ‘Funiculi, funicula’ for a folksong, you feel that this German tourist never left the heights of Capodimonte or Vomero. So the performance is even more of a curate’s egg than the work itself.