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Richard Strauss: Burleske in D minor, TrV 145 – Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), Opus 40, TrV 190
Denis Kozhukhin (piano), Saskia Viersen (violin), Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Marc Albrecht (conductor)
Recording: Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland (June 2018) – 72’35
Pentatone # SACD PTC 5186 721 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English and German

Parody and ego are two telescopic elements scrutinized on this Pentatone release. Marc Albrecht loosens the ear by introducing the lighter fanfare of Burleske before journeying into the adventures of the symphonic poem, Ein Heldenleben. On both fronts, the august Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra (NPO) disciplines Richard Strauss’ monumental music and its sharp edges with firmness while maintaining flexibility.

Timpanist Theun van Nieuwburg gets the first and final say in the brusquely capricious Burleske, a novel Straussian approach with the percussion never wandering too far. Hans von Bülow’s indignant comments concerning the piece’s overall playable qualities weren’t necessarily inappropriate, but such difficulties provided an alluring conquest for any aspiring pianist to perform. Intimidating as it may be, Burleske charges forward with Denis Kozhukhin mastering the magic through sparkling runs and twinkling suggestions of impish fabric.

Closely tied to Brahms’ Piano Concerto N° 2 (the “Allegro appossionato” in the key of D minor), structurally and melodically, Richard Strauss’ inventions seethe with daring modernity and pixy taunts…after all, the German’s intention was not to imitate but to spoof his predecessor. Not as widely performed as other works, Burleske adds a ring of brilliant freshness by having M. Kozhukhin bury himself into the work’s burla facets with enthralling execution.

With a discography heavily centered on the German repertoire, Marc Albrecht has much to give, just as we have much to learn. Draped in Wagnerian éclat, Ein Heldenleben’s summary re-visit into Strauss’ life surges amidst heroic expansion. M. Albrecht’s policy is to vibrantly landscape this quasi-autobiographical dossier in libre-esprit accord.

Strauss devoted lengthy time to the symphonic poem’s third movement, “The Hero’s Companion”, in a sort of drop cloth outline mindful of Strauss’ opera, Intermezzo. Violinist Saskia Viersen takes emphatic charge of Pauline’s picayunish sniping intermingled with interstices of quixotic flippancy. The NPO takes care of connecting these various prickly dialogues with romantic blushes via rich harp glissandos: it heralds the future of Ariadne auf Naxos and Der Rosenkavalier. Burleske is a gateway into the future for not only Richard Strauss, but also for composers to follow.

Strauss’ ambition to fool the orchestra into sudden shifts of melody and thematic content doesn’t deter this orchestra for the NPO nimbly sifts and shifts through the occasionally erratic mayhem in order to make the work meaningful and imaginatively stupendous. Cutting to the chase and unapologetic in abbreviation, Marc Albrecht achieves a successful outcome. An example of lifted expression comes by way of the arched horn that entrées “The Hero at Battle.” This mini-melodrama breathes of pregnant life in an ultimate test of combat and triumph...vacillations rise and fall with chaotic beauty.

“The Hero’s Peaceable Works” is the grand summarization, a memorial Strauss œuvre flashback. The concluding passage, “The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Completion” reaffirms the NPO’s clear understanding of Strauss’ power of persuasion.

Flawless acoustical might and grand richness can be found on this Pentatone recording. This CD deserves a visit for any Richard Strauss enthusiast.

Christie Grimstad




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