Strauss: Orchestral Works (three volumes)

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COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Orchestral Works (three volumes)
PERFORMER: Dresden Staatskapelle/Rudolf Kempe
CATALOGUE NO: CMS 7 64342 2/64346-2/64350 2 ADD Reissues
Like Strauss himself as conductor, Kempe was a natural: easy in his sense of movement, with never a rigid tempo in earshot (try the voluptuous first lady of Don Juan for flexibility), and certainly no seeker after extreme sensation. That might seem odd in music such as this, and there are some stretches of the tone-poems where one momentarily longs for an over-the-top bravura beyond the ken of the Dresden orchestra – for example, the mock-heroics of the united family at the end of the wonderful Domestic Symphony, on which I suspect Kempe never quite lavished the love it deserves. But that Kempe manages to keep in sight the shapely proportions of the organised Romantic’s Classical structures, while relishing the idiosyncrasies of the Straussian picture-gallery seems, most of the time, exactly right. his Till Eulenspiegel is all things to all men, flipping from rage to insouciance at the tap of a shoulder, while Don Quixote – another unsurpassable performance – flies through the air at every sally.

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In record form, the concertos came separately. here rarities are distributed throughout the sets with a canniness that lovers of only first-rate Strauss might find distressing. Peter Rösel nobly takes up the gauntlet in the curious Twenties vehicles for left-handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein. These are followed by the half-Brahmsian, half-Eulenspiegel Burleske. Then you must work your way through the Indian summer concertos with assorted Dresden soloists – mellow clarinet, too-mellow horn (Peter Damm, very much an acquired eastern European taste) before you get to the first three tone-poems in Volume One.

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This isn’t by any means ‘the complete Strauss’, but we should think ourselves lucky the legacy was caught at all before Kempe’s death in 1976, albeit in a highly synthetic sound-packaging that is warm and helpful at best (Alpine Symphony, Also sprach Zarathustra), at worst brutally up-front (hectoring strings in Metamorphosen). For the most part, Kempe and company come smiling through. David Nice