R Strauss: Tone Poems, Vol. 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: R Strauss,review
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss: Tone Poems, Vol 2
WORKS: Works by R Strauss
PERFORMER: Frank-Michael Guthmann (cello); Johannes Luthy (viola); SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Francois-Xavier Roth


When I reviewed François-Xavier Roth’s first Strauss disc (September 2013), I praised the supremacy of this Baden-Baden/Freiburg band and its Stuttgart counterpart. I didn’t know then of the cost-cutting merger that will decimate two orchestras enjoying a new renaissance under excellent principal conductors (see also this month’s Orchestral Choice).

Overall standards remain high here. The only fly in the ointment is comparison with a recent Don Quixote from Cologne’s Gürzenich Orchestra, graced with an even more imaginative conductor and two vivid soloists on their Hyperion winner (reviewed June 2013). Roth respects Strauss’s original intention by drawing cellist and viola-player from the orchestral ranks; Frank-Michael Guthmann’s melancholy madman isn’t quite aristocratic enough – though he makes lovely pure music out of the central vigil and the deathbed scene – and Johannes Lüthy’s Sancho Panza needs a bit more dirt on his face. The other letdown is the speed at which Roth takes the F sharp major vision of Variation 3, as if he’s afraid of the lushest sentiment.

That said, the spider-web counterpoint is crystal-clear, especially in the turning of Quixote’s wits and the journey in the ‘enchanted boat’. Woodwind have a special vividness in a spring-heeled Till Eulenspiegel, its sometimes vicious edge well embodied in the D clarinet shrillings. All that’s to be done with the early Macbeth is to accept that Strauss isn’t quite his exuberant self in a creaky suit of Gothic armour, to keep the bass lines clear and the blustering to a minimum: to which the natural, spacious recording lends a keen helping hand.


David Nice