Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel, Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung - Albrecht
PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 310
Classical - Orchestral
Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel, Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung, Träumerei am Kamin
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
Marc Albrecht (conductor)
Review by Graham Williams - August 30, 2008
Marc Albrecht, the conductor on this SACD, is the son of the eminent conductor, George Alexander Albrecht . He was one-time assistant to Claudio Abbado and formerly Music Director of the Darmstadt State Theatre. His recent engagements have included appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden and NHK Symphony. He is currently Chief Conductor of the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra and this is his first recording for PentaTone who continues its worthy policy of fostering emerging musical talent.
The fill-up to this coupling of three of Strauss’s most popular Tone Poems is ‘Träumerei am Kamin’, a single orchestral interlude or ‘zwischenspiel’ from his delightful, but rarely performed, opera Intermezzo. Four of the twelve interludes linking the scene changes in the opera are often given as a suite and it is a pity that there was no room on the disc for the full 20+ minute suite, particularly when the music shows Strauss at his most ripe and luscious, and the orchestral playing is as ravishing as it is in this short extract.
In the tone poems Albrecht is pitted against legendary conductors of the past including Krauss, Reiner, Szell, Kempe and Karajan as well as the composer himself, and any new recording of these popular works must offer more than just competent interpretations in what is undoubtedly a very over-crowded field (though not yet on SACD). Marc Albrecht’s performances are certainly not routine, but although he has an obvious affinity with this music, they do not distinguish themselves from the many other fine recordings already available.
Don Juan is well paced with plenty of forward thrust, but in the lyrical episodes of the work the strings lack opulence while much more heroic sounding horns can be found elsewhere. Curiously, the accompanying notes refer ‘discophiles’ to Strauss’s first recording of the work made in 1929 and Albrecht’s timing of 17.16 against Strauss’s 15.33 is not to the newcomer’s advantage. The various episodes depicted in Till Eulenspiegel are well characterised and the bass drum at the point of Till’s judgement will linger long in your memory (as well as those of your neighbours). Just the last degree of charm, affection and humour is missing here.
Tod und Verklärung is the most compelling performance of the three, notable for Albrecht’s refusal to wallow in the more sentimental music, and also for some arresting playing by the trombones and the (too?) enthusiastic, timpanist.
The recording was not made by PentaTone’s usual Polyhymnia team, but by the experienced Wolfram Nehls (producer) and Phillipp Knop (balance engineer), and it is not necessarily a criticism of their efforts to report that I found the sound quality to be slightly less good than expected. The problem seems to be the recording venue, the Palais de la Musique et de Congrès, Strasbourg, whose acoustic adds a shrillness to the strings as well as a slight hardness to the overall sound. Furthermore, there is some unwanted background noise at the start of Tod und Verklärung that sounds like the air-conditioning in the hall and also some thumping noises at various points in all three pieces, possibly emanating from the podium. The Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra still retains an essentially French sound. Strings are lean, winds more pungent than those found in orchestras on the other side of the Rhine, and horn solos are played with a vibrato, and euphonium-like tone, that I personally find unappealing.
In spite of my reservations regarding some aspects of the orchestral sound and recording, these performances do have much to commend them.
Copyright © 2008 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
Review by John Broggio - October 4, 2008
A potentially entertaining disc let down (pretty much the whole way through) by the acoustic, (in all too many places) the orchestra and (in parts) the conductor.
Compared to Strauss: Don Juan, Aus Italien - de Billy, Albrecht's Don Juan is similarly paced in the faster sections (i.e. with real vigour) but his slower episodes are very much slower and account almost entirely for the 1'30 difference in timings. Some might find the reflection glorious, to this listener it was lethargic and cast a pall over the proceedings. By and large the orchestra acquitted themselves well here.
Moving on to Tod und Verklärung, which demands more reflection as part of the extra-musical narrative and despite some odd balances, my main concern here was the incongruity of approach between strings and woodwinds/brass. At the opening of the allegro section, the lower strings are surging and very threatening in a most exciting manner yet the accompanying figurations are meek and sound as though an entirely different conception had been welded on at this point. Things do improve but this is far from an isolated incident and as such prevents the account from joining the ranks of the great accounts.
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche suffers from similar problems in the orchestra where the winds and strings seem to have diametrically different ideas about tuning that is really not pleasant. One should be laughing with, not at, the orchestra in this work - a shame because Albrecht paces very well and draws out much detail but he needs an instrument in front of him with far more finesse. The concluding excerpt from Intermezzo is by far the most enjoyable item on the disc and shows what could have been achieved had the repertoire not been so taxing.
What is clear in all the music is that the "Palais de la Musique et de Congrès" Strasbourg is not really a palace for music at all - the microphones clearly had to be placed very close to the instruments indeed. This makes for an odd sounding Pentatone disc where they appear to have almost reverted to Universal levels of spot-miking and other jiggery-pokery in the studio!
Not one of Pentatone's better efforts on any front.
Copyright © 2008 John Broggio and HRAudio.net