RICHARD STRAUSS conducts RICHARD STRAUSS = Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite, Op. 60: Minuet and Prelude to Act II; Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils (two versions); Don Juan; Der Rosenkavalier: Waltzes and Suite – London Symphony Orchestra/Augmented Tivoli Orchestra (Rosenkavalier Suite)/ Richard Strauss
Pristine Audio PASC175, 72:38 **** :
Producer Mark Obert-Thorn has gathered a series of acoustical Brunswick, Columbia shellacs and English Columbia electrical recordings to assemble a program in which Strauss leads his own works, 1921-1926. Between 1921-1922 Strauss made a concert tour in America, stopping in Chicago, home of Brunswick Records. The orchestral ensemble of the two Bourgeois Gentilhomme excerpts remains unknown–either the Chicago Symphony or members of the Damrosch-led New York Symphony. The Bourgeois cuts and the December 1921 Salome Dance of the 7 Veils are quite noisy, although the harp part from Salome stands out. Strauss does not dawdle with tempos, preferring to keep the music moving, especially as record companies could be dogmatic about the 4-minute inscription limit on shellacs’ sides.
Only fourteen seconds of performance time separates the New York recording of Salome from the LSO inscription made 19 January 1922, but there is a decided, improved qualitative nuance in the latter record, especially in the woodwinds and percussion. Typical of the acoustic period, ensemble at the high fortissimos tends to clutter and lose sonic definition. A slightly edited Don Juan (18 January 1922) manages to communicate the orchestral audacity and colorful elan for which the work remains a perennial favorite. String definition sounds poor on the upward runs, and the bottom harmonies often become muddy. But the violin solo, harp, and purring winds and percussion come through, the pacing emphasizing the lyrical nostalgic aspects of the score. The last pages convey a real sense of fury and subsequent dissipation of energy, the LSO tympani’s rolling pedal and three final thuds definitive. From the same 19 January 1922 session come the Otto Stringer arrangement of Rosenkavalier Waltzes, whose tinny, thin sound does not prevent our swaying in sympathy with the often pesante application of dynamics Strauss employs.
Four years later, on 13-14 April 1926, Strauss returned to London to lead the Tivoli cinema theatre orchestra for a premier of the silent-film version of Der Rosenkavalier. EMI prior issued a transfer of this suite of eight scenes, into which Presentation March had been interpolated for a scene with the Feldmarschall. The sequence presented follows the order of inscription rather than the opera’s chronology, though the Introduction and Love-Scene, Act I and Marschallin’s Monologue Act I, which open the suite, were actually the last recorded. The huge difference in sonic quality from acoustic to electrical recording is simply monumental–we hear a “modern” orchestra in vivid colors, the Pristine XR process having done its job well. The Act III Waltz purrs a fin-de-siecle song of haunted elegance, the strings and harp all but dripping Viennese schlag through the speakers. Luminous and radiant chords surround the Presentation of the Silver Rose. Once more, we feel as though a noble aristocratic way of life were passing into irretrievable history. A cello solo, French horn, and violins’ slides evoke a Paradise Lost. After the instrumental arrangement of the Octavian and Sophie Duet (Act II) and the pompous Presentation March, the suite in magical harmonies, with the Trio and Final Duet, making us long for the real voices of Schwarzkopf and Seefried. Still, for an emanation of Old-World glory and civility, these composer-led inscription will endure as testimony of exalted ideals, musical and social.