R. STRAUSS Don Juan. Metamorphosen. Songs • Jan Latham-Koenig (pn, cond); Strasbourg PO; Joan Rodgers (sop) • AVIE 2172 (63:24)
Sometimes I must admit to wondering why certain CDs are released. This one is a case in point. There is absolutely no problem with an artist wanting to preserve his or her interpretation of a piece of music, even if there are many available recordings with excellent sound by proven experts in the field. The problem is that Read more style="font-style:italic">Don Juan, Metamorphosen, and most of Richard Strauss’s songs have so many fine recordings that you almost have to assume that Jan Latham-Koenig, Joan Rodgers, and the Strasbourg Philharmonic have very little chance to achieve commercial success. But if you rigidly apply that thinking, you will be missing a rare diamond in the rough that Strauss lovers need to hear. After all, who would have thought that this very same orchestra conducted by Marc Albrecht would produce the best-ever recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphony (PentaTone)?
Don Juan clocks in at a fairly lengthy 17:48, but most of the time is taken in a broadly paced central section that is quite lovely. The opening has plenty of swagger, but Latham-Koenig pushes the climax too hard and the French horn solo sounds a little watery. This is the fastest Metamorphosen that I have ever heard, 23:55 compared to Herbert von Karajan’s 27:30 on Deutsche Grammophon. That is a huge difference that most decidedly goes against the postwar interpretive custom for Strauss’s masterpiece. I ultimately favor Karajan, especially with the strings of the Berlin Philharmonic. But Latham-Koenig’s unapologetic clarity and persistent forward thrust present Metamorphosen in a totally new light.
Soprano Joan Rodgers is miked so closely in the songs that they are almost unlistenable if you play the CD at full room volume immediately after the soft ending of Don Juan. This does no favors for Rodgers, who has an uncomfortable wobble whenever her voice is pressed. On the other hand, the more gentle, lyrical songs (Morgen!, Rote Rosen) are quite charming, especially with Latham-Koenig’s hypnotically expressive accompaniment. Whether or not this noble effort is commercially successful remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: It certainly should be. I look forward to future recordings conducted by Latham-Koenig.