Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available as a hybrid Super Audio CD
Bernard Haitink, cond; Chicago SO
CSO-RESOUND 9011002 (62:32) Live: Chicago
is one of Strauss’s most difficult tone poems to render palatable. Bernard Haitink’s new recording will serve as a welcome corrective to those whose ears have been battered and buffeted by many thoughtless performances of it on disc. Indeed, the average performance of this score makes it sound bombastic, but Haitink avoids that trap. What he does for
here is similar to what he did for
in his studio recording with Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra. (I have not heard his live remake with the London Symphony Orchestra.) In other words, he treats it more like an important philosophical document than like an orchestral showpiece, and the results are very likeable.
Haitink conducts this score with affection, and with a nobility it often lacks. The music representing the Hero’s adversaries does not lack venom, however, and the battle scene is as exciting as any on disc. Concertmaster Robert Chen’s portrayal of the Hero’s companion is not as strongly delineated as others, but this is in keeping with Haitink’s overall approach, which is the resolute refusal to state the obvious. No one can conduct
in Chicago without feeling the ghost of Fritz Reiner looking over his shoulder, and the RCA SACD of Reiner’s recording is absolutely glorious in every single way. Without cheapening it, Reiner drives the score much harder than Haitink, though, and those who love Reiner (as they should) might want to give Haitink a try—not as a replacement, but as a valid second opinion.
Scared of Webern? Haitink will cure you of that fear with a reading of
that is no less affectionate, in its own way, than that of
. Yes, this is Webern’s easiest score to enjoy, but it helps to approach it, as Eugene Ormandy did, with love and not with sterile respect. Haitink is two and a half minutes more expansive than Ormandy, in his world premiere recording, yet one is not tempted to rush a double espresso to Chicago’s podium in hopes of getting Haitink to move faster. The music holds together just fine, and on a day like today (it is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Virginia), even one’s
should not move too quickly!
The engineering is splendidly realistic, although the strings seem a little harsher in the Webern than they do in the Strauss.
Do give this a try.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Along with his fine performances of music by Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner, in recent seasons Bernard Haitink has also executed work by Richard Strauss and Anton Webern. Strauss’s late tone-poem
Ein Heldenleben received an exemplary reading by Haitink in December 2008, and the recording made from those performances is evidence of his mastery of the score. Of particular interest is the fine reading of the violin solo at the conclusion of the work by Robert Chen. That stated, the contrasts Strauss composed within the score are audible in this recording, with details, like the solo violin not only emerging easily, but fitting well into the larger textures.
Haitink’s tempos also support the sections of the piece, and his phrasing allows the lines to be heard distinctly. This clear, lucid approach is audible from the opening, which is inviting for its nuanced phrasing, subtle dynamic shadings, and balance of tone colors. With regard to the latter, the CSO’s woodwind section is particularly effective in the second section, “The Hero’s Adversaries”. A similar sensitivity to color may be found in the brass (especially those off-stage) in “The Hero’s Battlefield”. Yet for an overall idea of the sensitive ensemble, “The Hero’s Works of Peace” merits attention because of the ways in which the softer sections remain full-voiced and compelling, as Strauss shifts the tone colors that are essential to conveying his extra-musical ideas in this section. The chamber-music-like sonorities which Strauss uses to fine effect in the middle sections of many of his tone poems emerge here distinctively, with his responsive leadership giving fine shape to some of the contrapuntal passages. Elsewhere, the atmospheric quality of the low strings is reproduced nicely, without risking any distortion in the aggregate sound. Moreover, the quotations and reminiscences of Strauss’s other works are clear and appropriately prominent when they occur, and Haitink is perceptive to blend those elements expertly into the structure of this outstanding reading of this important symphonic work.
Along with the clarity in his interpretation of
Ein Heldenleben is a sense of restraint in some of the fanfares. Haitink’s precision is remarkable, but the excitement that emerges with some conductors - at times at the expense of accuracy - is absent from some passages. This is a small point, but evident at various points in the recording, as in fanfares that usher the section entitled “The Hero’s Companion”. Some conductors might take some risks in “The Hero’s Battlefield”, though, and the solid clarity of Haitink’s reading is useful when he can bring out the various layers of sound that are part of Strauss’s score. This also allows Haitink to invest the score with a welcome intensity.
Also included on this disc is Haitink’s 2009 reading of Webern’s early tone poem
Im Sommerwind, a work that was never heard during the composer’s lifetime, but one which has been brought into the concert performance in recent decades. Composed just a few years after Strauss’s
Ein Heldenleben, Webern’s youthful tone poem echoes both the extended chromatic harmony of the time and also some aspects of the young composer’s own style. Since Webern had not yet arrived at the serial concision with which he is associated, the style of
Im Sommerwind exists between those two worlds. It is closer, perhaps, to Schoenberg’s
Pelleas und Melisande (completed 1903, premiered 1905). In this piece, Haitink gives full rein to the rich harmonies, allowing the tonal space to resound fully. The sonorities along merit attention in this richly performed reading. In this piece Webern took his cue from a poem by Bruno Wille, which describes the various perceptions of a summer day; it is, in a sense a series of impressions influenced by the poem. Here the work succeeds not only through its musical structure, but also as a result of the timbres the young composer used in this impressive piece. It benefits from the sensitive ensemble of the CSO, an aspect that is present in this fine recording. Haitink has given the work clear shape in presenting the structure of this engaging, but less familiar composition. It complements nicely the more familiar music of
-- James L. Zychowicz, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 by Richard Strauss
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1897-1898; Germany
Im Sommerwind by Anton von Webern
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1904; Preglhof
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Op. 40, TrV 190: Der Held (The Hero) -
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Op. 40, TrV 190: Des Helden Widersacher (The Hero's Enemies) -
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Op. 40, TrV 190: Des Helden Gefahrtin (The Hero's Companion) -
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Op. 40, TrV 190: The Love Scene
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Op. 40, TrV 190: Des Helden Walstatt (The Hero's Field of Battle) -
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Op. 40, TrV 190: Des Helden Friedenswerke (The Hero's Works of Peace) -
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Op. 40, TrV 190: Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung (The Hero's Withdrawal from the World)
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