Strauss: Josephslegende

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WORKS: Josephslegende
PERFORMER: Dresden Staatskapelle/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 463 493-2
Undoubtedly the silliest of Strauss’s large-scale orchestral scores – though the 1922 Viennese confectionery ballet Schlagobers runs it close – The Legend of Joseph marked a last oriental-religious fling for the Ballets Russes before the First World War compelled the ever-resourceful Diaghilev to change direction. It’s hard to believe Strauss’s genius-librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal took pride in the scenario of God-boy Joseph under siege from the clichéd vamping of Potiphar’s wife, or that the composer identified with any aspect of the score. There’s fitful interest, certainly, in the diaphanous twitterings of Joseph’s four-part dance; neo-classical anticipations of Strauss’s Indian summer concertos here must surely include the sketches he incorporated from a 1900 ballet based on a Watteau painting.


Other refined sequences of the score show fascinatingly selective string-writing while the big moments are pure, ungainly thrash. In neither case is the thematic material first-rate Strauss. But the bonus of texture-conscious Sinopoli and his translucently recorded orchestra after the poker-faced presentation of the only previous contender (on Denon, not currently available) does make one appreciate Strauss’s hard-working attempts to simulate the eroticism of Salome and the fairy-tale strangeness of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Bonnard’s hideous original poster was a foolhardy choice of cover when Bakst’s designs and photos of the sexy young Leonid Massine were readily to hand. David Nice