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Strauss: Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche, Ein Heldenleben / Christoph Von Dohnányi, Philharmonia Orchestra

Release Date: 03/31/2009 
Label:  Signum Classics   Catalog #: 148   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R. STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. 1 Ein Heldenleben 2 Christoph von Dohnányi, cond; Philharmonia O SIGNUM 148 (59:08) Live: London 6/30/2001; 1 10/4/2007 2

Christoph von Dohnányi is a legitimate Straussian who emphasizes the composer’s Classical side reflecting all the way back to Mozart. In that sense, he is Read more closer to Fritz Reiner and Rudolf Kempe than Herbert von Karajan’s sometimes-mannered sound sculpting or Zubin Mehta’s extravagant lushness. Classical clarity generally dominates over sweeping Romanticism. That would seem to be ideal for Till Eulenspiegel , but not so much for Ein Heldenleben . Dohnányi’s Till does not disappoint. The winds capture the impish spirit of Till, and the percussion instruments add immense impact. The bass drum is very prominent, but has little deep extension. As a result, it sounds like a kettledrum on steroids. This works well in Till Eulenspiegel , because it doesn’t clutter the sharpness of the instrumental textures. Dohnányi uses military drums (instead of snare drums) at the climax with telling effectiveness. Only the French horn-player is a little tentative and has some problems with the fiendishly difficult solo part. This amounts to a minor quibble in what turns out to be an outstanding performance.

The amazing thing is that Dohnányi’s Ein Heldenleben is just as good. The opening section is nearly identical in timing to the expansive Mehta version (Decca), but Dohnányi produces a leaner instrumental texture that adds to its dramatic impact. The cutting clarity of the sound makes “The Hero’s Adversaries” a vitriolic group. In “The Hero’s Companion,” Dohnányi ratchets up the tension by shortening the note values of the full orchestral passages that contrast with the solo violin. This increases dramatic contrast to an almost unprecedented extent without slighting the ravishing orchestration. Similarly, the dialogue between the offstage trumpets and ominous onstage brass at the beginning of “The Hero’s Battlefield” has never been better captured, but nothing will prepare you for the explosion of drums that follows. All of this proceeds at a well-chosen middle of the road tempo. Dohnányi does not find it necessary to rush in order to generate excitement. The ending is perfectly consistent with the rest of the performance. Dohnányi moves things along, but the duet between the solo violin and horn is haunting, and once it ends at a clear and true pianissimo, the layered effect of the winds and horns in the final soft chords is outstanding.

The transparent but dry sound contributes to the unerring attention to detail in Dohnányi’s interpretation. This performance of Ein Heldenleben is the polar opposite of Mehta and Giuseppe Sinopoli. Think more of Reiner and Karl Böhm, but Dohnányi definitely has his own ideas, and the sound supports his approach very well. This is a must for committed Sraussophiles.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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Works on This Recording

Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894-1895; Germany 
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1897-1898; Germany 

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