STRAUSS: Sonatina No. 2, “The Happy Workshop”; Serenade, Op. 7 – Carnegie Wind Ensemble/George Vosburgh – Reference Recordings

by | Mar 26, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

A great introduction—let’s hope for more recordings like this!

STRAUSS: Sonatina No. 2 in E-flat, “The Happy Workshop”; Serenade, Op. 7 – Carnegie Wind Ensemble/George Vosburgh – Reference Recordings FR-745, 50:33 *****:

Though Richard Strauss had written over 100 works in his youth, only four of them are for wind ensemble, one quite early, one of young adulthood, and two others later in life. Aside from the two works on this disc, there is a Sonatina No. 1 (“From the Workshop of an Invalid”) from 1943, and a Suite in B-flat (written when the composer was 20).  It provides an interesting contrast in style and proclivity towards the genre when comparing all of them together. In this case, we have the earliest and the latest, and it is fascinating to hear. 

Strauss was always a great admirer—nay, lover—of Mozart, and each of these works pays a special kind of homage to him, and to Mendelssohn and Beethoven in a unique sort of summary expression of their influences. The earliest, when Strauss was only 17, is shorter and much simpler in harmonic expression—Strauss himself was quite critical of the piece in later life. It gives a nod to Mozart’s sublime Serenade in B-flat, “Gran Partita” in it’s thirteen-instrument orchestration, but also provides much tunefulness and hints of what was to come. The piece is a one-movement sonata form, and its luxuriant harmonies and extended melodies breathe the air of his later operas in part, without complete immersion into a genre that was yet to be. In any case, it is a very impressive work for such a young talent and holds up well today.

The other piece, The Happy Workshop, demonstrates the expressiveness and mastery of form, harmony, and integration of the wind medium that the composer had achieved by 1944. It is a monster to play—multitudinous key changes, virtuosity demanded of every player, and some interesting tweaks of instrumentation, like a clarinet in C and basset horn, as well as a bass clarinet part that is written in bass clef. It came in a flash, a burst of creative energy that was the result of the catastrophic effects he felt when the Munich Court Orchestra, where his father had played for so many years, was destroyed at the end of WWII, and which had seen the premieres of Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger. This event encapsulated the memories and accomplishments of many years, as well as adding a nostalgic sauce to the normally progressive Straussian stew, and the result is this work of pure remembrance and “gratitude” as the composer himself put it. It, and the first sonatina, are groundbreaking and foundational pieces of the wind literature and deserving of being heard by anyone who loves the music of Strauss.

Maestro Vosburgh and the Carnegie Mellon players give us an outstanding reading in all respects. Blending is perfection, technical problems overcome with ease, and the swirling harmonies of Strauss’s endgame thoughts are presented with aplomb. The recording itself is clear and exceptionally circumscribed by the engineers at the Kresge Theatre in Pittsburgh, making for an enchanting listening experience. My curmudgeonly irritation at the short playing time will only be assuaged if Reference decides to release a second disc of the remaining two works with these same forces. An exceptional disc.

—Steven Ritter

 

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Album Cover for Strauss - The Happy Workshop, Sonatinas




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