R. STRAUSS: Josephslegende (complete ballet); Love Scene from “Feuersnot;” Festmarsch – Royal Scottish National Orch./ Neeme Järvi – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5120, 70:38 [Distr. by Naxos] (6/25/13) *****:
Last year Neeme Järvi celebrated his 30-year recording career with Chandos, and I’m pleased to have an improved SACD of this interesting ballet score. Strauss based this score on the Biblical tale of the adventures of Joseph in Egypt following his having been sold into slavery by his brothers. Strauss showed more interest in the sexual side of the story than the Biblical: Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, ends up committing suicide, and Joseph is rescued from torture by an angel. When the ballet was premiered at the Paris Opera in 1914 it received some criticism as being too indecent—just like The Rite of Spring. The note booklet has a very detailed explanation of all the scenes in the ballet prefaced by an indication of the track numbers, so that one can follow the music closely. I don’t believe I’ve noticed such a detailed description for a ballet before. It makes me want to see a Blu-ray video of the ballet.
I’m quite familiar with the first movement of this work because many years ago when I was dabbling in electronic music I used some loops created from portions of this Strauss score. Some of it seems perhaps a bit stodgy, but probably with the stage choreography it fits better. Järvi has recorded the Symphonic Fragment from Josephslegende before, he’s a fan of R. Strauss, and now he gives this spectacular account of the entire ballet. The gigantic orchestral forces Strauss called up for this score come across beautifully in hi-res surround.
The 58-minute ballet is complemented by two other short Strauss works: The Love Scene from his early opera Feuersnot, and his Festmarsch Op. 1 TrV 43 in E Flat Major (which the composer wrote when he was only ten). Talk about indecent: the plot of the opera involves a young man who advances are rejected by a young girl, so he gets a sorcerer to extinguish all the fires in the town, and the only way to re-light them is from a light from the girl’s backside. Naturally the opera was disturbing to its audiences.
This SACD gets my vote over my earlier review of Ivan Fischer’s recording on Channel Classics. The sonics are a bit warmer and you can actually hear the pipe organ in the final section. Järvi also brings more of a sense of drama to his performance, and the two filler selections are good to have.