Strauss, R: Eine Alpensinfonie

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COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Eine Alpensinfonie
PERFORMER: London SO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0689 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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 A grand master conductor who makes Bruckner seem very human can also justify a Brucknerian version of Strauss’s nature-picture. Mravinsky did it once with slow tempos; Bernard Haitink achieves it with pacing the agile Strauss would surely approve, but also with even more poise, space and personality than he once found in his classic recording with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

As registered by James Mallinson’s now-adept balancing team of Neil Hutchinson and Joanathan Stokes, you’d not know that the Barbican was a less than opulent and giving venue. The mountain looming through the murk at the beginning, and its splendour as the sun hits the peak, are both peerlessly handled by Haitink.

If his mountaineers don’t quite have the bully-boy charge of a Georg Solti, their progress allows perfect chamber-musical reflection where many interpreters rush and gathers impetus on the way to the waterfall (brilliant, with skeetering desks of strings vividly present). Mountaineering perils sound surprisingly like an illustrative Tom and Jerry score before Haitink turns serious, pulls all the live emotional stops out halfway through the summit survey and drives on to the darkening of the canvas.

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The epilogue is effortlessly gorgeous and troubling in turn, even if the LSO strings don’t quite have the personality of their central European counterparts. There are so many good recordings of the Alpine Symphony on the market now, but this has moments that are as fine as any, and arguably the noblest overall shape of all. David Nice