COMPOSERS: R Strauss
WORKS: Eine Alpensinfonie; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
PERFORMER: WDR Koln SO/Semyon Bychkov
CATALOGUE NO: PH 09065
Mixed experience of Semyon Bychkov’s full-blooded conducting style live, ranging from a leaden-footed Elektra to trenchant Shostakovich, suggest he’s a creature of earth rather than air. That would seem to be confirmed by this Alpine Symphony.
Whenever hard-working, energetic detail is required, as in the mountaineers’ first clambering, their entanglement in thickets or their slips on the glacier, Bychkov’s is an unsurpassably responsive and well-proportioned performance. The storm is supremely pacy, too, for once not outstaying its welcome.
Yet while the high noon of the Alpine day is appropriately masterful, not much of the real spirituality behind the programme comes through; the idyllic meditation in the forest sounds hard and pushed, and the sunset lacks its glow. The vivid but rather dry recording needs more air around it, like the Sony spectacular for Fabio Luisi and his Dresdeners.
The Cologne woodwind run rings around civic conservatism as wag Till Eulenspiegel’s many agents, with the D clarinet shrill and fine. Bychkov forgets that the comic is also an airy spirit, though, bookended by affection.
For more nimble qualities, you need Szell or Abbado. Full marks, though, to Profil’s two booklet note writers, even if I don’t believe that the music of the Alpine summit is based on the song ‘Anbetung’: surely it’s a homage, as Strauss is supposed to have explicitly stated, to the big tune at the heart of Bruch’s First Violin Concerto? David Nice