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Karl Böhm: Richard Strauss - Eine Alpensinfonie/ Der Rosenkavalier’

img  Tobias Fischer

Don Juan
Eine Alpensinfonie
Suite of Waltzes from ‘Der Rosenkavalier’

RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester/ Karl Böhm

This Audite release from the broadcasting archives of the Deutschlandradio Kultur documents the 1st master release of these 1952 and 1954 performances in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem. Although private recordings of these broadcasts have since been circulating amongst collectors, the latest Vol.8 of the “Karl Böhm Edition” is a welcoming addition following the previous success of Vol.6 with Strauss’ A Hero Life/ Death and Transfiguration (Audite 95.586). Despite the age of these original analogue tapes, Audite is able to preserve on CD format the high acoustic excellence of the source tapes, but with added superior remastering skills applied by Ludger Böckenhoff to uncover the disguised musical details in the original tapes. Vol.8 continues with three important Strauss compositions with the RIAS Symphony Orchestra: An Alpine Symphony from March 1952, plus performances of Don Juan and the Suite of Waltzes from ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ from February 1954.

The recordings showcase not only the important relationship between Karl Böhm and the RIAS Symphony Orchestra, but also between the conductor and Richard Strauss. They represent a handful of Strauss performances Böhm made shortly after the Second World War and the death of the composer in 1949. In his book “Begegnungen mit Richard Strauss” [Encounters with Richard Strauss], Böhm describes the close relationship he has with Strauss, both on an artistic and on a personal level, and how it has influenced his music-making of the master’s oeuvres. He writes: “I promised the master to look after this legacy faithfully for as long as I live, and to maintain it according to his wishes.” Böhm’s treatment of Don Juan is suitably provocative, warm-blooded and heroic. The bed of strings from RIAS Symphony Orchestra show layered textures, where the piece demands an intensity to parallel the narrative of this drama. Böhm’s attributes of accuracy, precision, and discipline are brought out into the forefront in this heroic performance.

Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony shares many similar parallels to the same art-form as those written by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). The love of nature is a common theme in these two composers. An Alpine Symphony represents Strauss’ rendition of programme music, which describes the composer’s mountaineering experience in vivid, scenic titles with a wide expanse in orchestration. Strauss jokingly said in the première performance in 1915 that “at last I have learned to orchestrate.” It indeed takes a faithful champion of this master’s works, such as Böhm, to be able to pay full tribute in the composer’s creative genius. The opening and final pictorial settings, both entitled “Nacht,” showcase the lower strings of the RIAS Symphony Orchestra with clarity, smoothness and flexibility. These qualities are greatly benefited by Böhm’s attention to details in the shaping of phrasing and his close bonding with this Orchestra, all of which enables him to bring out the finest of these musicians at the helm of his baton. In the remainder nineteen settings, the performance also captures the full-bodied sound of the winds and the signature rich tone of the brass players.

The most impressive orchestral performance of all is the vibrant Suite of Waltzes which is both vivid and sparkling to the extreme. It is surely one of the most exciting versions currently available in the discography of this composition, and ranks en par with the elegant jewel of the infamous 1970s performance from Rudolf Kempe and the Staatskapelle Dresden.

By: Patrick P.L. Lam

Homepage: Audite Records
Homepage: Naxos Records (Distribution)

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