Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Metamorphosen

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Ein Heldenleben; Metamorphosen
PERFORMER: San Francisco Symphony/Herbert Blomstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 436 596-2 DDD
The rush to record the large-scale Strauss works continues unabated. And you don’t get much larger-scale than Ein Heldenleben, the 34-year-old composer’s self-important summing-up of his ‘hero’s life’ so far.

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To bring the piece off requires not merely an orchestra of the highest standard (which the San Francisco Symphony certainly is), but also conducting of great personality and conviction.

Herbert Blomstedt is good at conveying the epic sweep of the opening melody (one of Strauss’s finest) and at holding the structure together. But his supporting cast is, to my ears, undercharacterised: the poisonous critics are all clearly audible but too polite, and Pauline, Strauss’s wife (represented by the extended violin solos), is all bossiness and no warmth.

The battle scene is certainly ferocious, but too much detail is obliterated by the noisy brass. And, despite marvellous solo horn playing in the closing pages, the golden glow of a performance such as Karl Böhm’s never quite descends over the Hero’s escape from the world.

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Metamorphosen, Strauss’s study for 23 solo strings, is also rather stiff at times, but here the splendid strings of the San Francisco Symphony show their true colours, playing with a firm sense of line and a full, well-focused tone. I wouldn’t always want to hear such a robust lament, but Blomstedt’s is a viable approach. Stephen Maddock