R. STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 – Philharmonic Sym. Orch./ Carlos Paita – (Lodia) Carlos Paita Edition CP 804, 48:21 (6/2/15) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

In live performance, the Argentinian conductor Carlos Paita (b. 1932) delivers a sonically immaculate performance of the 1899 symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben, a self-glorifying depiction of the R. Strauss ego raised to epic proportions.  We have very little data on the nature of the interpretation: no performance location or date; no information about the solo violin – depicting the “hero’s” helpmate, Pauline – not even a total timing. We can hear audience noises and activity around the microphone placements.

An admitted admirer of German conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Paita relishes the dramatic components of orchestra performance. Ein Heldenleben – dedicated to another orchestral titan and megalomaniac,  Willem Mengelberg – permits Paita to elicit every kind of militant and erotic effect from his responsive, massive orchestra, especially when Strauss begins quoting various heroic passages from his own scores.  Essentially, Wagner’s scoring for Tristan has been augmented for its spectacle and panoply of interior colors, for which the Philharmonic Symphony winds, brass, tympani, and harp excel.  The disc does not advertise itself as any high-tech sound reproduction process, but it does not need it. Rarely have the Hero’s Critics enjoyed such rabid rancor. Paita drives the music with his patented ferocity, certainly in the Mengelberg tradition but colored by his own attention to orchestral timbres. Does the music enter its extended coda with a deliberate reminiscence of the Shepherd’s Melody from Tristan? Do the drooping figures in the strings mean to allude to Rienzi, besides the clear scalar passages from Beethoven’s Eroica? It would seem that Valhalla opens its gates for all heroic principals at the music’s conclusion.  These are forty-eight intense minutes of music!

—Gary Lemco