Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Macbeth

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Ein Heldenleben; Macbeth
PERFORMER: National SO of Ireland/Gerhard Markson
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554417
A life lived in fear is a life half lived, the saying goes, and since Strauss’s hero dares the orchestra playing his part to match his tongue-in-cheek flamboyance, this is a pointlessly cautious exercise. Not that the orchestra doesn’t play well, within its means, but you can tell from the first bar that the fairly meagre lower strings have been pulled up front by the helpful recording as Markson’s protagonist lumbers rather than swaggers his way into action. The critical adversaries don’t seem to have learnt their nasty parts too well – there’s a serious first oboe fluff here – and the principal violinist negotiates Frau Strauss’s portrait cleanly without turning the long solo into the plum operatic role it ought to be. The excellent first trumpet comes forcefully into play to cap an exciting battle sequence, but the later stages return us to the general mix of overall sluggishness with exciting high-spots.

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Macbeth is Strauss’s most conventionally proto-Hollywood score, rife with the fanfares John Williams would be able to put to good use less than a century later. The thrust of the performance is more convincing here, with the Mendelssohnian fairy-music for Lady Macbeth on route nicely phrased by the woodwind; it’s hardly Markson’s fault if the going gets turgid around the two-thirds mark. David Nice