COMPOSERS: Richard Strauss
ALBUM TITLE: Strauss, Richard
WORKS: Symphonia Domestica; Die Tageszeiten
PERFORMER: Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; Berlin Radio Choir/Marek Janowski
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 (hybrid CD/SACD)
This is a satisfying twinning of Richard Strauss’s least often played mature symphonic poem with a total rarity; programmatic themes connect the two works, but they have very few moods in common, which is all the better for the necessary contrasts. Symphonia Domestica is his mock-epic take on 24 hours in his own household, from the happily married couple’s daytime play with their child through evening composition, night-time lovemaking and dreams and on to a huge family quarrel and a very extended happy ending. Anyone unsure about the narrative will have missed the humour and the brilliant manipulation of a handful of short themes, the equal of any symphony. Following Symphonia Domestica, there’s an action replay of ‘The Times of Day’, the translation of the choral work’s title, revisited through the metaphysical medium of the Eichendorff settings.
Those who don’t know the least often heard of the symphonic poems should be amazed by Marek Janowski’s sympathetic, detailed interpretation; but even Straussians don’t often get to hear Die Tageszeiten. It’s one of his deepest works, hovering on the threshold of sleep and the unconscious, territory covered in the shortest sequence of Symphonia Domestica which otherwise has nothing musically in common with this mellow hymn to nature. Male voices – here the superlative men of the Berlin Radio Choir – begin a cappella and, in the second number, manage supreme pianissimos. In the third, evening casts long shadows in the woods and distant birdsong is heard – cue lustrous orchestral writing – while a distant storm casting back to Eine Alpensinfonie merely threatens the peace of night. I fell in love with the work, contrary to all previously held common wisdom on its not being very good, and have played it over and over.
This would be worth the cost of the disc alone, but Janowski’s Domestica is also up there among the best (which doesn’t include Herbert von Karajan’s with its split trumpet at the peak of the double-fugue argument and distorted sound at climaxes). The woodwind are set naturally back but always clear in the beautiful idyll of the child at play, parallel in its apparent naivety to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, and while the strings aren’t as sensuously rich as their more famous Berlin counterparts, all their phrases are well moulded. Janowski is always surprising: some of the earlier passages are slow and serious, though not unmusically so, while the joyously protracted finale is all the better for the brisk pace established at its outset, which means great feats of horn virtuosity at the even faster lick of the final romp. You also get to hear more inner detail than on any other recording. David Nice