Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Oboe Concerto

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Ein Heldenleben; Oboe Concerto
PERFORMER: Richard Woodhams (oboe); Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56149 2
The standard published version of Ein Heldenleben tails away almost to nothing before swelling triumphantly through a succession of glowing horn chords. ‘State funeral!’ Strauss is reported to have remarked, sarcastically, during a rehearsal in 1946. Reason enough, in an age obsessed with authenticity, for Sawallisch to retreat to the unpublished, ‘original’ version for this recording. Here, there is no heroic ending, but a long held chord, pathetic in its isolation, given by solo violin and horn, the latter held a tremulous, ambiguous major third above its companion. It is interesting, for it is an ending full of uncertainty and desolation, but it is not better, for it seems too ham-fisted, musically, to be a credible statement from so fastidious a composer as Richard Strauss.

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Don’t let this, or the somewhat haphazard positioning of the track numbers, put you off a powerful and stirring performance that is thrillingly recorded. Strauss obviously had digital sound in mind when he wrote Heldenleben, for the opening growl and flourish from the basses are here reproduced with a punch that no live performance could even approach.

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Richard Woodhams, in the Oboe Concerto, plays all the notes but does not seem to recognise that the serpentine charm of the melodic line needs flexibility and room to breathe. He is not helped by a microphone perspective that makes the notes sound richly upholstered but also reveals every breath and key click. Christopher Lambton