Strauss: Don Juan & Ein Heldenleben

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

ALBUM TITLE: Strauss: Don Juan & Ein Heldenleben
WORKS: Don Juan & Ein Heldenleben
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink


Horns and heroes went together, tongue in cheek, for Richard Strauss in his mock-epic Ein Heldenleben. So it is understandable that the London Philharmonic should honour its late principal horn-hero, Nicholas Busch, by releasing these two live performances, courtesy of BBC Radio 3. In Heldenleben Busch has a terrific solo line of his own in the hero’s battle with his adversary-critics, and the collective horn ensemble cap Bernard Haitink’s broad and generous take on the hero’s homecoming. But Ein Heldenleben here is let down by leader David Nolan’s handling of the ‘hero’s companion’ – none other than the first of many portraits of Strauss’s capricious wife Pauline. It needs to start from a basic tone of tenderness, so that the waspishness takes us by surprise; this is too acid from the start.


Haitink’s style is for the most part magisterial in both works, pushing the phrases only when they really need it, sealing and affirming a spate of climaxes. The LPO strings are more sensuous in the later recording, of Don Juan from the Festival Hall, than in the Royal Albert Hall Heldenleben. I’d never have identified the RAH venue from the up-front sound; all round, it’s better than the Festival Hall broadcast, badly congested from the point when (ironically) the horns sound the great lover’s heroic high noon. David Nice