Strauss, Tchaikovsky: Don Quixote

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: RLPO Live
WORKS: Don Quixote
PERFORMER: Lynn Harrell (cello); Royal Liverpool PO/Gerard Schwarz
CATALOGUE NO: RLCD 403
Tchaikovsky is rarely credited for beating Richard Strauss to neo-classicism, and Schwarz underlines with great tenderness both composers’ glance back at the 18th century in the opening bars of each work. There the comparisons stop, and it’s just as well that cellist Lynn Harrell plays two very different roles. His Don Quixote is angry and passionate, aptly old-fashioned in the persistent use of portamento and poetic when visions of his muse Dulcinea arise (he even manages to dominate the full-orchestral ‘castles in the air’ sequence when Quixote expands on his chivalric code). Earthier than the aristocratic Rostropovich in Karajan’s magisterial recording, Harrell makes an odd coupling with the superbly poised principal viola of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, David Greenlees, who narrates Sancho Panza’s proverbs in Var. 3 with unique aplomb; a touch of role reversal hardly matters when both play so well.

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Schwarz’s guiding hand is more operatic than any other, using his customary elasticity as a springboard for a host of dazzling orchestral solos (and no players evoke Sancho’s snores at the end of Var. 4 better than the RLPO bass tuba and contrabassoon). The spider-web of madness, one of Strauss’s most remarkable achievements, is dazzlingly, aggressively realised; the later, more fraught variations billow with a palpable sense of accumulated tension and the deathbed scene could hardly be more moving. Having sighed his last so eloquently, Harrell moves on to a seemingly effortless lightness of touch for Tchaikovsky’s Rococo manner, once again partnered with a refreshing humanity by conductor and orchestra. David Nice