Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie; Suite in B flat, Op. 4

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: RLPO Live
WORKS: Eine Alpensinfonie; Suite in B flat, Op. 4
PERFORMER: Royal Liverpool PO/Gerard Schwarz
CATALOGUE NO: RLCD 401 P
Gerard Schwarz, now well installed as Liverpool’s guiding musical light, paces his ascent of Strauss’s Bavarian Alp to perfection. Just when you think night is about to be dispelled with headlong energy, ‘Sunrise’ slips effortlessly into magisterial gear; the humanistic meditation before our explorers reach the waterfall shows a master conductor’s control of free expression, but then it’s all brilliance, joyous haste and clean-textured confusion for the rest of the journey to the summit. It’s true, and perhaps inevitable, that when the cellos and basses announce man’s arrival on the scene, all striding energy for the ascent, we realise the Liverpudlians aren’t wearing the top-notch designer gear made in Berlin or Vienna. At least the engineering within the Philharmonic Hall is impressively natural, admirably capturing the keen blend of wind and brass.

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As an interpretation, Schwarz’s Alpine adventure is less confident on the way down. The balance between urgency and atmosphere falls a little too much on the hurried side and there’s a touch of embarrassment about the first signs of sunset, admittedly not an easy passage to like; a hard-to-read eccentric like Thielemann, generally less poised, can work wonders at moments like this. A clutch of booklet notes fills us in on each unusual aspect of Strauss’s mighty orchestra. As companion, we could also (just) have had Schwarz’s view of Also sprach Zarathustra; we get instead Strauss’s early wind-ensemble Suite – distinctive only in its merry Gavotte, embraced in this mellow performance by some especially fine horn-playing. David Nice