The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Mikko Franck continue their collaboration with Alpha and here invite one of the label’s flagship pianists, Nelson Goerner. The programme is devoted to Richard Strauss, coupling several of the German composer’s early works. The Burleske for piano and orchestra, written at the age of twenty, is brimming with lyricism and Romantic ardour; its tone colours herald Strauss’s operas, while the orchestration anticipates his symphonic poems. The piano part is exceptionally virtuosic: Hans von Bülow, for whom Strauss wrote it, called it unplayable! The Serenade for thirteen wind instruments harks back to Mozart’s Gran Partita K361 for similar forces. This brief work in a single movement begins in a nocturnal colouring, as befits a serenade, before growing more animated and finally returning to the contemplative atmosphere of the opening. The symphonic poem for large orchestra Tod und Verklärung depicts the last hour of an artist’s life: the listener is gripped from the very first bars, which evoke the breathing and heartbeats of a dying man. Strauss allows us to experience his final moments and the transfiguration of his soul in one of the most glorious moments in the symphonic repertoire.
Goerner opens the Burleske with blistering energy. The opening salvos (abetted by some driving timpani interjections) are dispatched with thrilling urgency, but he also brings a lovely wistful gentleness to the more lyrical episodes and delicacy to Strauss’s more playful moments. Mikko Franck and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France offer dramatic and characterful support.
The early Serenade receives a big and generous performance in the Karajan mould (and clocking in at over 26 minutes) which offers many stirring moments in sound that is pleasingly rounded and blended.