R Strauss • Rihm [DVD]

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: R Strauss • Rihm
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: Strauss: Four Last Songs; Malven (orch. Rihm); Eine Alpensinfonie; Rihm: Ernster Gesang
PERFORMER: Anja Harteros (soprano); Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann C Major DVD: 726408;
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 726408; Blu-ray: 726504

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Fans of the peerless Anja Harteros can skip the first piece in this Dresden Semperoper concert: the still-ubiquitous Wolfgang Rihm’s interestingly coloured but typically inchoate Ernster Gesang would have been as lugubriously inappropriate for the centenary of Brahms’s death, which it originally marked, as it is for the 150th anniversary of Strauss’s birth, occurring just after this repeated programme in June last year. The diva-lovers should at least hear, if not necessarily watch, Eine Alpensinfonie. Watching means being puzzled by Christian Thielemann’s unsmiling, inscrutable face on the Bavarian mountain ascent, translating into an unatmospheric opening night-picture and dogged abstraction in the strip-cartoon shenanigans near the summit. The way down is the most impressive I know, though: severe, rocky and spooky, with a masterful epilogue. Thielemann gives little away but, as with Strauss the conductor, the eyes have it.

He is watchful, too, of his soprano in the Four Last Songs. Which here are five thanks to Rihm’s perfectly idiomatic arrangement of ‘Malven’, a pretty flower song which belongs more with the lighter of the earlier Brentano songs. The deeper Strauss-orchestrated Lieder are beautifully served by Thielemann’s characteristic translucency and Harteros’s now unbeatable way with the longer phrases (Anne Schwanewilms does the words even better, though). You sense her pulling Thielemann back, but he goes with her and the results are predictably spellbinding. Perfect camerawork, too, under Michael Beyer, even if I wish the focus had stayed on Harteros’s beautiful face at the end, and there ought to have been optional subtitles for the 17 sections of the Alpine Symphony.

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David Nice