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Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Rosenkavalier Suite / Andris Nelsons

Strauss / City Of Birmingham Sym Orch / Nelsons
Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Orfeo   Catalog #: 803091  
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R. STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben. Der Rosenkavalier: Suite Andris Nelsons, cond; City of Birmingham SO ORFEO 803091 (72:30)

Andris Nelsons is still another good-looking, charismatic, young conductor beginning his promising recording career. He may not yet have the international exposure of the young Russians (Vladimir Jurowski and Vasily Petrenko), but he is apparently already a rock star in Birmingham. He has also nurtured a Richard Strauss connection by conducting the Dresden Read more Staatskapelle. After reading the somewhat nebulous Nelsons interview in the program notes of this CD, I wasn’t sure what to expect from his Ein Heldenleben . It turns out to be big, bold, generally slow, and very serious. The opening is broad and assertive, suggesting an approach similar to Zubin Mehta (Decca-London). Then there is a delightful change of pace when Nelsons depicts “The Hero’s Adversaries” with chattering woodwinds at a very fast tempo in contrast to the hero’s almost melancholy, songful response. “The Hero’s Companion” is no shrinking violet. The battlefield section is played with remarkable control almost resembling Fritz Reiner’s version (RCA SACD), but without the dazzling virtuosity and power of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (especially the brass). Nelsons saves the best for last. After rushing the climactic statement of the horn call from Don Juan , the various woodwind solos and the final dialogue between the solo violin and French horn are magical at a slow tempo that seems just right. All told, the Nelsons Ein Heldenleben is an impressive achievement.

His Der Rosenkavalier Suite (the Rodzinski version) is even better. The opening horn call virtually explodes and then Nelsons generates plenty of excitement in the prelude without drastically accelerating his basic tempo. The buildup to the arrival of Octavian emphasizes tonal richness over breathless anticipation. Nelsons plays the “Presentation of the Rose” music very slowly without crossing the bridge to cloying sentimentality. Make no mistake. I have never heard this music played with such melting beauty in an interpretation of the suite. The rhythm and swing of the waltzes are just right. Then there is the Trio. Once again, I have to search my memory to recall the different instrumental lines being presented so clearly as they are here. Nelsons begins very slowly, but subtly quickens his tempo at the climax. If there is a problem with this Der Rosenkavlaier Suite, it is the suite itself rather than Nelsons. There is too much slow music. Antal Doráti’s arrangement is a more dramatically effective concert piece because he includes more of the comical music from the prelude to act III as a scherzo between the “Presentation of the Rose” and the Trio.

The sound is generally good, but Strauss’s superb orchestration would have benefited from a little more clarity and fine instrumental detail. Applause is included after Ein Heldenleben , but Nelsons (as he states in the program notes) has the audience so enthralled that there is not a sound until he releases the tension several seconds after the end of the performance. If applause is to be included, this is clearly the way to do it.

This recording is a major success because Nelsons has clearly thought out his interpretation of both works from beginning to end rather than superficially using these orchestral showpieces to promote his career. He has managed to apply his personal imprint on music that has been recorded by virtually every important Straussian conductor with significantly better orchestras and sound. Reiner, Mehta, Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon), and Rudolf Kempe (EMI) are all preferable for various reasons, but Nelsons is a significant and competitive new player with a fresh view that is worth hearing in this very crowded field.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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Works on This Recording

Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59: Suite by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1909-1910; Germany 
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1897-1898; Germany 

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