Strauss – Don Juan, Aus Italien & Don Quixote

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Don Juan; Aus Italien; Don Quixote
PERFORMER: Jan Vogler (cello), Sebastian Herberg (viola); Staatskapelle Dresden/Fabio Luisi
CATALOGUE NO: 88697435542 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Does the Dresden Staatskapelle’s now-embattled Italian principal conductor bring ‘a particularly authentic voice’, as Sony’s booklet promised, to Strauss’s southern trio of orchestral works? Surprisingly not. Earlier successes in the series, Eine Alpensinfonie and Ein Heldenleben, shone with Luisi’s gravitas and command of glowing, detailed orchestral textures.

Different qualities are required here, and sidestepped: swashbuckling forward drive for a Don Juan who does at least seem to be genuinely in love with his two leading ladies, operatic narrative to propel the variations of Don Quixote, and the creative touch to enliven a fitfully inspired early work, Aus Italien.

Indeed, so unatmospheric is the current Dresden band’s way with the morning mists of the Campagna, the sea breezes at Sorrento and the jolly flash of the finale’s ‘Funiculi, funicula’ that I wondered if my affection for the young Strauss’s picture postcards had been misplaced. Not a bit of it – I turned to the classic old Dresden/Kempe partnership and found every corner unillumined by Luisi here blazing into life. 

Don Quixote, as always, touches certain nerves: the knight’s descent into madness and his brain-fried lollop home go deep, but the character studies, determined principal viola Sebastian Herberg as Sancho honourably excepted, don’t spring off the page.

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It was a good idea to turn to a soloist who used to be leader of the Dresden cellos, Jan Vogler, but he never withdraws into introspection as Quixote must, above all in the crucial central vigil. The rich if very reverberant sound is a pleasure, as before, but there’s not enough human life to fill the canvas. David Nice