R. STRAUSS: Symphonia Domestica; Die Tageszeiten — Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Rundfunkchor Berlin/ Marek Janowski – Pentatone

RICHARD STRAUSS: Symphonia Domestica; Die Tageszeiten – Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Rundfunkchor Berlin/ Marek Janowski– Pentatone multichannel (4.0 RQR Series) SACD PTC 5186 507, 67:50 [Distr. by Naxos] (6/09/15) ***1/2:

Truth be told, I like nearly most but not all music by Richard Strauss and his Symphonia Domestica is not my favorite of his output. This work has long been considered a bit controversial among players, as well as listeners. This is due to the long held belief among some that Strauss had perhaps one chief flaw: that he was given to excesses and that his music was frequently too egocentric or self-grandizing.

Take the composer’s original idea for the work’s title and theme; My home: A symphonic portrait of myself and my family. If we add to the implications of that title his inclusion of more than forty individual themes or motifs that pervade the score in semi-autobiographical fashion (and his penchant for quoting other music of his own) it is easy to see why some would think this to be capricious (large; but capricious) It is also ‘noteworthy’ that there is one entire section intended to depict the passions of sexual intercourse between Herr and Frau Strauss, which quite shocked the original hearing audience – much to the delight of the composer.

There is no denying, though, that this ‘symphony’ or ‘tone poem’ or whatever the “experts” may consider it still contains some really fine music and some of Strauss’s characteristically masterful orchestration. The ‘Domestica’ still feels a bit pedestrian to me, especially against something like the similarly-intentioned Ein Heldenleben. However, it is a big, bold and often captivating work.

The inclusion of his The Times of Day for male chorus and orchestra here is actually quite a treat. This is a four-movement work which depicts the emotional sense of the morning, midday, afternoon and evening in texts by von Eichendorff that are, really, symbolic to the stages of life. In this sense, as well as musically, these hold much in common with Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder and are a fine listening experience with poignant melodies, characteristically dense Straussian harmonies and, ultimately, a tone of contentment tinged with resignation. These works do not get programmed very often at all so I was glad to get reacquainted after hearing a rare live performance many years ago.

Lastly, I have been consistently impressed with the audio quality produced by Pentatone and applaud their commitment to bringing out some recordings that have not been remastered in a while and giving them a new feel and lush hi-res sound. I also do not consider myself an expert on the work of Marek Janowski but what little I have heard I like. I have read reviews in which the Polish born maestro is accused of holding back a bit or not truly “feeling” some of the scores he conducts. I do not find this to be true. While my own standard for recordings of the Symphonia Domestica remains the old Reiner Chicago Symphony gem, I find nothing to begrudge Janowski or his Rundfunkorchester – which, under his regime as principal conductor, has rarely sounded better. [And one would never notice the lack of a center channel…Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs

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