COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: BR Klassik
WORKS: Don Juan; Ein Heldenleben
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 900127
Does the ‘fiery pulse of youth’ no longer beat in Mariss Jansons’s veins, as it so obviously did in the 80-year old Strauss’s when he conducted these works in old age?
This Don Juan is not about impulse and surprise, the 24-year-old composer’s original goals. Rather it languidly reveals the tonal beauty of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra – unquestionably one of the world’s most sophisticated orchestras – in tandem with a recording which keeps a slight distance but allows every lovely detail to tell. That works well in capturing the diversity of the oboe-solo colours for Juan’s second love and the strands of the ‘Works of Peace’ sequence in Ein Heldenleben, where Strauss’s multiple self-quotations of compositions up to 1899 are heard more clearly than ever. The chill anticipation of death in Don Juan, too, is magnificently detailed; here, if anywhere, Jansons is justified in taking his time. But the payoffs of each work don’t feel earned when the start is already so over-comfortable.
In short, Jansons prefers abstraction to telling a tale; the phrases are shaped, but they don’t speak to us. If you want to return to the later Herbert von Karajan era of pure gloss, these performances may be for you; but we have too many keener intelligences among younger conductors, prepared to make these classics of the German repertoire come to life again, to settle for this. The booklet note writer doesn’t seem to realise that when Strauss remarked that he found himself ‘at least as interesting as Napoleon or Alexander’, he was being wry, and this Hero’s Life is just as humourless and straight-laced.