RICHARD STRAUSS: The Last Concerts = Don Juan, Op. 20; Burleske in d Minor; Sinfonia domestica, Op. 53; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 – Alfred Blumen, piano/Philharmonia Orchestra/BBC Symphony Orchestra (Till)/Richard Strauss – Testament

by | Apr 12, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

RICHARD STRAUSS: The Last Concerts = Don Juan, Op. 20; Burleske in d Minor; Sinfonia domestica, Op. 53; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 – Alfred Blumen, piano/Philharmonia Orchestra/BBC Symphony Orchestra (Till)/Richard Strauss

Testament SBT2-1441, 76:04; 24:23 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

The bill for the Philharmonia Orchestra concert for Sunday, 19 October 1947 advertised the “Personal Appearance of Richard Strauss: The Greatest Living Composer and Conductor” leading a program “of his most famous and popular works.” At the time, Strauss (1864-1949) and his wife lived as impoverished exiles in Switzerland, and he had not conducted a concert in three years. The Philharmonia Orchestra was itself a relatively new ensemble, but it knew Don Juan through its work with Alceo Galliera. The Domestic Symphony, requiring a large orchestra that called upon extra players from neighboring London ensembles, had been unknown to the Philharmonia. For the Burleske in D Minor, Strauss called upon Alfred Blumen, an old colleague from a tour of South America with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1923. The two did not always agree on tempos, but for many years only the Burleske was known to the National Sound Archive to have survived as a complete recording for posterity.  Happily–more or less–an engineer named Kenneth Leech took the concert off-the-air on 78rpm acetates, but without covering some gaps in musical time. What we have, then, are glowing accounts of incomplete scores in less-than-state-of-the-art sound, for collectors and historians only.

Strauss obviously gained much in the three rehearsals he led in Albert Hall, often regaling the players with personal anecdotes relevant to the Sinfonia domestica. Their responsiveness, especially in the woodwinds–with added help from clarinet Jack Brymer from Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic–proves exemplary, given the incessant swish of the 78rpm acetates and the unavoidable lacunae in the score. The music itself is a “poor man’s Ein Heldenleben,” the heroic impulse having been subdued to the diurnal activities of a family man. The Burleske tosses out some real fireworks, especially in its wonderful colloquies between piano and tympani. The Don Juan, though taken at rather a quick tempo, achieves no small grandeur; and here we do miss having every note, especially as its suave melodies and huge climax suffer truncation.  The Till Eulenspiegel derives from a BBC evening of 29 October 1947, and the same limitations apply. The Times commented that “the composer in old age can still exert control over an orchestra with a masterly economy of gesture.” That the digital remastering by Paul Baily at Re:Sound revived the original shellacs, we can hear in ten minutes of original, unedited recording from Don Juan on Disc 2.  

Very special, this set, in its own way: but be forewarned that some radio transcription elements infiltrate the originals – verbal signals that the editing process has not eliminated.

— Gary Lemco

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