Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche

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COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Ein Heldenleben; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
PERFORMER: Cleveland Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnányi
CATALOGUE NO: 436 444-2 DDD
Few works allow an orchestra as many opportunities to exhibit its virtuosity, and the luxuriance of its tone, as Strauss’s ebullient epic, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), and the Cleveland demonstrates here its ability to meet every challenge head on. The string sound is magnificent, the brass uproarious, the woodwind suave and the percussion exhilarating.

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The tone-poem itself, perhaps best viewed as the grandest of all exercises in musical mock-heroics (the common-sensical Strauss must have known that he was anything but a hero), is certainly egocentric, but not egomaniacal. Dohnányi traverses its vast expanses with easy assurance, welding Strauss’s wayward counterpoint into a cohesive whole, but the piece ideally needs more swagger, more warmth, and a more sheerly over-the-top quality than he allows it. The violin soloist is a shade backward in coming forward, something which could never have been said of Strauss’s wife, whom the violin portrays; but the malicious triviality of Strauss’s adversaries – music critics (!) – is etched in the sharpest detail.

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Till Eulenspiegel receives a witty, graceful reading, and the brazen effrontery of the medieval prankster (another Straussian alter ego) shines forth in this ultra-clear recording. In Heldenleben, too, there is an invigorating bite to the sound from the top to the bottom of the range. George Hall