Dimitri Mitropoulos Conducts = R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote, Op. 35; Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 – Alwin Bauer, cello/Paul Schroer, viola/Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos
Medici Arts MM035-2, 75:16 [www.mediciarts.co.uk] ***** [Distr. by Naxos]:
From the session of 7 September 1959 Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) leads the Cologne Radio-Symphony in two staples of Richard Strauss, the tenth anniversary of whose passing these performances commemorate. With little over a year remaining in his own life, Mitropoulos’ renditions of these often elegiac works already suggests mortality, although an autumnal glow permeates both interpretations.
The 1898 tone poem after Cervantes, Don Quixote, Mitropoulos treats as an extended sinfonia concertante written in episodes that exploit the initial theme as variants of dramatic character. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza engage in a series of misadventures which consistently raise the protagonist’s level of spiritual awareness, his noble quest to find in common and vulgar reality a source of subjective illumination. Mitropoulos’ realization, then, eschews the virtuosic bravura in the cello part we associate with Feuermann, Piatagorsky, and Janigro and opts for the integrated sensibility the composer rendered in his inscription with Enrico Mainardi. The beauty of cellist Bauer’s tone, however, cannot be denied in the fifth variation, The Knight’s Vigil.
The intensity of Mitropoulos’ reading, moreover, can flare into passionate transcendence, as in Variation 3, the Discourse Between the Knight and the Squire, where individual strands of melody coalesce into an immaculate quilt of inspired visions. The pungency of the confrontation with the Pilgrims more than once suggests Liszt’s Eine Faust-Symphonie, of which Mitropoulos taped excerpts for educational TV near the end of his life. The Ride Through the Air and The Voyage in the Enchanted Boat presage equally monumental effects in another Mitropoulos specialty, the Strauss Alpine Symphony. The Battle With the Knight of the Blank Moon achieves a fierce heraldry whose brash and polychromatic textures somberly announces the passing of a way of life, the death of the Romantic sensibility. Certainly, the spiritual fatigue–song as lovely swan-song–Bauer illustrates in the last pages had to ring with bittersweet authority in the heart of the doomed Greek conductor.
From the opening pedal point and the “riddle” motto C-G-C, Mitropoulos mounts a blazing performance of the Strauss “translation of Nietzsche’s philosophical meditation on the spiritual quest “to make men worthy of “Man.” The textural shift to the Von den Hinterweltern could not be more drastic, the quality of chamber music intimacy directly opposed to the massive introduction, augmented by the searing string sound Mitropoulos could impose as his own, a la Stokowski. Typical of Mitropoulos’ keen sensitivity for chromatic color, the tension between the music’s penchant for C Major and its neighboring B Major gives rise to marvelous dissonances and ambiguities on which Mitropoulos exploits his manic energies. Mitropoulos slows the tempo of Von der Wissenschaft (Of Science) to a crawl, the fugue’s almost musical depiction of the evolutionary process itself, as we proceed from Cambrian beginnings to more Modern harmonies, rife with the motives of the Dance-Song. The Convalescent acts as a kind of recapitulation point, the layers of orchestral tissue reaching a critical mass in the motto theme, which stops dead in its tracks, only to be moderately resurrected in the sounds of Nature that flare up, Ziemlich langsam–schnell. Terrific trumpet and battery work from the WDR Symphony Orchestra, then the unaccredited solo concertante violin strikes up the inflamed Dance-Song, the highest expression of life “free of gravity,” as Nietzsche puts it. For “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” to cite Yeats. The fateful Midnight Bell tolls, a deep moment for Humanity. The Langsam finale after the Wanderer’s Night Song conveys tearing pathos, the Great Compassion that must confront The Unanswered Question. As for Mitropoulos, he sings in his chains like the sea.
— Gary Lemco