WORKS: Symphonia domestica; Don Juan
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 943-2
Some works command respect, while others compel love or hate. Definitely in the latter category – though its feats of symphonic metamorphosis should be cause enough for admiration – Strauss’s mock-epic chronicle of home life needs to be adored by its interpreters, as it evidently is by Ashkenazy. Aptly, too, the splendid orchestra of which he has been in charge for the last two years is a warm, compliant instrument rather than a metally, aggressive one like the Cleveland band of his earlier Strauss recordings. The vivacious string phrases of Mama and Papa Strauss’s happiest inspirations flow with absolute naturalness, while the woodwind soloists engaged to bedeck the charming naivety of their son glow effortlessly; the wind-band hymn to young Bubi at the beginning of the finale is a real treasure. It’s a pity that the engineers spotlight the excellent violin solos while leaving the clarinets, equal partners in several chamber-musical passages, as well as the oboe solo of Don Juan to fend for themselves in the distance. But at least climaxes never become congested, as they do on the Karajan recording, and that’s due in part at least to this never overbearing, always cultured orchestra.
As an interpreter, Ashkenazy has some surprising things to say, finding deep sadness in the Lullaby – a meditation on man’s short lifespan, perhaps – and spring-heeled humour in the finale’s quarrel and reconciliation, well up to the breakneck speed Strauss demands. Don Juan is full of character, too, with the right degree of chill for the skeleton twice revealed beneath ample flesh. David Nice