WORKS: Eine Alpensinfonie; First Sequence of Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 976-2
From Bohemia’s woods and fields to Bavaria’s icy mountains is an easy journey for the Czech Philharmonic when its chief conductor clearly loves this work so much. Ashkenazy’s great generosity of spirit lights up the big moments – go straight to the summit (track 13) if you seek confirmation – and his overall sense of give and take in this vast structure is impressive, though a little more leisure for the idyll between forest and babbling brook might not have been a bad thing (and he conveys his urgency rather too vocally here). This orchestra’s innate warmth makes for far more comfortable listening in the great padded climaxes than the abrasive Clevelanders on Ashkenazy’s earlier Decca recording.
Ashkenazy’s shortcomings are precisely Thielemann’s strengths in the recent DG version: the German’s subtlety of inflection and dynamics in all the most difficult or strange-sounding episodes is superior at every point, although the Ondine recording does allow for plenty of analytical detail – the solo viola in the splash of waterfall, for instance, or the bleating oboes in the pastures. Personally, I’d go for the heart worn on sleeve at all the most important places here rather than Thielemann’s revelatory moments. Ozawa in Vienna, however, remains the golden mean. It’s a pity that Ashkenazy’s companion-piece is the worst of all Rosenkavalier cut-and-pastes – the composer’s own, deleting the graphic horn whoops at the height of the love-making prelude. In any case, the waltzes come across with plenty of sensuous colour but very little lilt. David Nice