WORKS: Fanfare for the Vienna Philharmonic; Eine Alpensinfonie; Solemn Entry of the Knights of St John
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 454 448-2
The Vienna Philharmonic has a natural, noble claim to Strauss’s Alpine territory; and yet it has exercised it all too rarely. Doubts as to whether Seiji Ozawa was the right man to lead this orchestra to the summit quickly vanishes in the light of their free and easy progress from darkest night to a broad, richly perspectived sunrise.
The brass ensembles have never sounded more handsome – all the more reason to welcome the flanking ceremonials on this disc – and individual contributions, notably the warmest of first horns, a trumpet fearless in top range and a bass tuba full of presence, all enrich the overall impact. It helps that the Philips engineers have achieved a mellow spaciousness in thickly scored climaxes and crystal clear filigree in such episodes as the mountaineers’ walk to the waterfall (I think Strauss would have approved of the one burst of real thunder at the height of the storm). If anything, they have trumped the same company’s sonic mastery in its earlier, Concertgebouw/ Haitink version.
Ozawa succumbs to none of the dangers inherent in Strauss’s monumental structure. Usually the listener is impatient to reach the heart of the epilogue; with rare, unforced tenacity, Ozawa makes us listen to the craggier beauties just before it, and he never hurries over the onlookers’ generous-spirited rhapsodies to nature earlier in the work. If there is a fault, though, it’s a hint of impersonality to the Vienna string sound here. The final bars are as disquieting as I’ve ever heard them.
It’s a measure of the innately distinguished playing throughout the disc that this requiem to a vanished age can be followed without incongruity by an earlier piece of lip-service to Prussian pomp and circumstance.