RICHARD STRAUSS: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier; Symphonic Fantasy on Die Frau ohne Schatten; Symphonic Fragment from Josephs-Legende – Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/ JoAnn Falletta, conductor – Naxos 8.572041, 68:34 ***1/2:
As a concept album this is a real winner. We have three suites all fashioned by the composer of three operas, only Der Rosenkavalier initially offering the composer the type of lucrative success his tone poems had garnered. Everyone knows The Knight of the Rose and the suites (varied and culled by many people) are hardly lacking in either performances or recordings. On the whole I find Falletta’s recording a bit sluggish, never really reflecting the boundless energy and bouncy rhythmic vitality needed to set the score loose. It is by no means a bad reading, but considering all of the alternatives it is not particularly competitive, even though the Buffalo orchestra gives their all.
The Woman without a Shadow is a deeply entrenched morality play produced in Vienna right after WWI, and one must consider whether Strauss’s choice of subject matter—based on a mythological tale of an unfertile Empress who is asked to choose between infertility and worldly comfort was an appropriate one for a city desperately trying to ease the burdens of post-war life. In 1946 Strauss, fearful that the music would slide into obscurity, created his “shadow fantasy” in hopes of rescuing the music. It works very well and introduces audiences to music that beckons one towards giving fuller attention to the complete opera, just as the composer hoped. The Legend of Joseph was created only one year later in 1947 (it was written not long after Rosenkavalier in 1914) for much the same reason as the others here, and is maybe the most successful compilation that the composer did, reducing the one hour plus score to 24 minutes of sheer artistry and making it a legitimate tone poem of its own accord.
Falletta and forces navigate their way through these last two works with predictable aplomb, and everything I found missing in the Rosenkavalier Suite is here in spades, delicately treated with sensitivity and not lacking in the requisite force when called for. I wish I could say this was a home run all the way, but two out of three isn’t bad, especially at the Naxos price. The sound is quite reserved in nature while still retaining brilliance and vibrancy, sounding just like an old analog recording to me, something that will prove very appealing to many.
— Steven Ritter
In celebration of 150 Years, Vaughan Williams!