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Schumann, Wagner, Strauss - Kent Nagano

Schumann, Wagner, Strauss - Kent Nagano

Farao Classics  S 108 061

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Schumann: Konzertstuck for 4 horns
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll
Strauss: Metamorphosen

Johannes Dengler, Franz Draxinger, Rainer Schmitz, Maximilian Hochwimmer (solo horns)
Bavarian State Orchestra
Kent Nagano (conductor)


A new dawn and history
When conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra, a matter which is of key importance to Kent Nagano is the orchestra’s special character, which has evolved from out of its almost 500 years of tradition, it being one of the oldest orchestras world wide. For Nagano, herein lies the analogy which is necessary for his commitment for all that is new in music.

The distinguishing feature of this orchestra is its unmistakable warm and dark string sound, having been fostered by the great operas of Mozart and Wagner, and enriched not only through the works of Richard Strauss but actually working with the composer himself. What culminates from out of this, through the tonal contributions of the horns and brass, is a basic tone quality which is wonderfully rounded, never stressing brilliance merely for the sake of brilliance. As an opera orchestra the Bavarian State Orchestra is immensely flexible and sensitive to the nuances and emotions of a score, a trait which in the 200 years of their activities as a concert orchestra, has formed them into such an exceptional ensemble.

Furthermore it is the versatile and pioneering horn group which forms the backbone and power house of the orchestra, and not only in the music of Wagner. Richard Strauss’ father, who in his day was principal hornist in Munich is for the musicians a much revered historical symbol. The task of performing Schumann’s "Konzertstück" is one to which the horn group rises with more than bravura.

Richard Wagner’s "Siegfried Idyll" represents an important element in the orchestra’s tradition. Performances of this work in which it is taken back to its origins to such an extent, are rarely heard, and its deep inner calm is rarely felt as much as in the new recording with Kent Nagano and the Bavarian State Orchestra. Strauss’ late work "Metamorphosen" for 23 solo strings betokens the end of a musical era. This is a piece which symbolizes contemplation of the past and closure, and at the same time the beginning of a new age.

Thus the program on this SACD sketches, in its own quiet way, a portrait of the Bavarian State Orchestra and its general music director.

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Recorded at Farao Studios, Munich, November 2008
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Review by Graham Williams - September 23, 2012

The Bavarian State Orchestra (Bayerische Staatsorchester) has a history dating back almost 500 years and during that time, in its capacity as the orchestra of the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, musical directors have included some of the most eminent conductors of the past one hundred and fifty years including Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter, Hans Knappertsbusch, Rudolf Kempe, Georg Solti and Wolfgang Sawallisch.

While the orchestra's profile on many opera recordings is well established, its role in the concert hall has been less prominently represented on record in recent years partly due to being based in a city blessed with an abundance of fine orchestras. Hopefully this excellent SACD from Farao Classics should help to remedy that situation.

Here the orchestra is conducted by their current musical director Kent Nagano in a well chosen programme that illustrates its unique character and proud tradition.

The first item on the disc is a fine account of Schumann's wonderful 'Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra' Op.86. This work, a three movement concerto in all but name, was composed in 1849 during Schumann's time in Dresden and may well have come about as the result of the invention of valves for horns that made it at last possible to play all the notes of the chromatic scale on the instrument rather than being restricted to the natural harmonic series. The work's two lively outer movements exploit the traditional hunting call aspects of the horn, while the central 'Romanza' demonstrates its smooth cantabile and romantic attributes. Johannes Dengler, Franz Draxinger, Rainer Schmitz and Maximilian Hochwimmer – all members of the BSO's horn section - play the hair-raising horn parts with supreme confidence and unfailing beauty of tone, while Kent Nagano's accompaniment is both sensitive and spirited. The recording, made in the Farao Studios in Munich, is full and spacious with both the brazen rasp of the horns and their resplendently burnished tones realistically reproduced.

The Schumann Konzertstück is followed by an unhurried, not to say rather somnolent (19'22”), account of Wagner's 'Siegfried Idyll' in its usual orchestral garb rather than one for a chamber group of 13 players for which it was originally composed. Nagano's performance allows for not only appreciation of the refinement of the orchestra's string playing but also that of the characterful wind soloists. However, notwithstanding the beauty of the playing, I would have welcomed a little more forward movement from Nagano as the performance does incline at times towards stasis.

Strauss saw the bombing of the Munich Opera House in 1943 (as well as those in Weimar and Dresden) as symbolic of the destruction of the musical and cultural life of Germany at the end of the second World War. The Munich Opera House had seen the first performances of Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde and 'Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg' and his father had played the horn in the Munich Court Orchestra – the forerunner of today's Bavarian State Orchestra. 'The Metamorphosen for 23 Solo strings' was the composer's poignant response to those events and his profoundly personal threnody, with its references to the funeral march from Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphony and Wagner's Tristan, is now recognized as one of the finest works of the composer's final years.

Nagano's individual account of 'Metamorphosen' is also very broad (27'59”), but such is the intensity of the playing that one is gripped by the performance from start to finish. The conductor's care in ensuring every instrumental line is clearly delineated, aided by the fine engineering, is immediately evident. The 23 solo string players of the orchestra (5 Violin I, 5 Violin II, 5 Viola, 5 Cello, 3 Bass), each one of whom is deservedly named in the liner notes, will be aware of the special place that 'Metamorphosen' occupies in their history, and they respond marvellously to Nagano's expansive interpretation. Even the dramatic pause of a full seven seconds (from 21'31”) seems justified in the context of this deeply introspective performance.

With warm well-focused sound and playing that easily matches that of the most high profile German orchestras this SACD can be confidently recommended.

Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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