I do believe that this is only the second SACD of this symphony, which is strange considering that so much about it would seem to lend itself to surround sound. Christian Thielemann had a DGG recording that was SACD only if I remember correctly, and I did not get a chance to hear that one, though critically the reviews were mixed (but John Sunier liked it—see the archives in 2003). To that point I do know that two DVD-A recordings came out; one of the classic Kempe performance on EMI, which we also review here. and the other of Ozawa conducting the Vienna Philharmonic on a Philips DVD-A. [There was also a lovely 16:9 video DVD of a slide dissolve show of climbing a mountain, accompanied by the excellent Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra conducted by David Zinman in DTS 5.1…Ed.]
Coviello has been working on SACD overdrive, and here is another recording of the glorious Alpine Symphony, one of the most underappreciated works in the Strauss corpus, and one of his later ones. Critics dismiss a lot of it as noisy fluff, but I can make a case that all of Strauss is just that using a certain select criteria. The point is that I really don’t care—I love Strauss and adore this piece, and finally here is a surround version worth its salt, assuming that you too missed the Thielemann. It is perhaps a little disparately organized in terms of its extremely episodic qualities. It does not hold together the way the aforementioned Kempe does (or his semi-bootleg recording conducting the Royal Philharmonic which many critics like even better), lacks the brilliant sheen of Previn’s Vienna Phil recording on Telarc, or of Mehta’s energetic and powerhouse reading with Los Angeles on Decca (or even his more suave Sony reading in Berlin). But it does have a fabulous commitment by the players, each and every one. And who are they? The Brunswick State Symphony. Some people will be turned off immediately by this, and the name sounds like some orchestra you might find on a supermarket classical collection; but don’t be fooled. Though provincial, they play with heart and love for this music that surely has been with most of them since childhood, and you can tell that a lot of effort is going into the performance. Some of the trumpet spots verge on the out-of-control, perhaps a little raw, but they are able to pull it together at the last moment and the effect is quite thrilling. The strings are silken and uplifting in their soaring lines, and Mr. Alber knows the work well.
The sound is spacious and enveloping, with a wonderful sense of atmosphere, almost as if they were playing on the side of the mountain. I enjoyed this release very much, even if I can imagine—and hope for—a perfect SACD recording in the future. But for now, this will do.
— Steven Ritter