R Strauss Schlagobers Suite; Debussy Jeux – Poème dansé; Ligeti Melodien for orchestra
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Jonathan Nott
Pentatone PTC 5186 721 (hybrid CD/SACD) 72:35 mins
What possible connection is there between the three works on this, Jonathan Nott’s first recording as music director of the top Swiss orchestra? The steady deconstruction of the dance, perhaps? A tortuous liner note doesn’t clarify; perhaps Nott himself could have told us more. But let the trio stand as a rare slice of enterprise.
Strauss’s bizarre 1921 ballet set in a Viennese Konditorei – ‘Schlagobers’ means ‘whipped cream’ – has only had two complete recordings: Neeme Järvi tackled a slightly more extensive suite than the one recorded here, and Rudolf Kempe made a case for the waltz as voluptuous middle-European showcase. Though the Suisse Romande violins occasionally sound wiry, the textures here are bewitchingly strange: the sequence of dancing tea-blossoms and coffee is more opium dream than sharp Nutcracker-style fantasy. There’s some Rosenkavalier-style neoclassicism, too, alongside a noisier vein, with bright high frequencies provided by splendid playing from the flutes and piccolo. Debussy’s ballet for Diaghilev is, curious to say, clearer in its dance contours than the Strauss; as in the same team’s bewitching BBC Proms performance, there’s more glistening clarity than I’ve previously heard in this baffling score, though the sphinx keeps her secret and the final dissolve is magical. That wood-at-dusk haze splinters into a thousand fireflies in Ligeti’s Melodien of 1971, where lines and phrases eventually emerge on the typically unpredictable journey. A more resonant acoustic might have helped in this programme, but there’s no doubt that Nott is in command of the Swiss players, who by all accounts like him a lot.