Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Arts Desk - CD review (Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Don Juan)

Graham Rickson

Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Don Juan NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo/Paavo Järvi (RCA)
Listen to this disc blind and you’d probably identify the orchestra as an elite European or American ensemble. This is surely one of the great recordings of Ein Heldenleben, and it’s all about the timing. Paavo Järvi’s brilliant Tokyo-based NHK Symphony Orchestra bring us home in less than 45 minutes, making the egotistical hero less of a pub bore than someone whose company you’d actually enjoy sharing. Strauss’s Lebhaft bewegtis properly observed: Der Held bounds into life, the springy lower strings never overwhelmed by horns. Järvi’s critics are suitably waspish, and violinist Fuminori Maro Shinozaki’s portrayal of Strauss’s wife is ravishing. A punchy, viscerally exciting battle scene forms the centrepiece, and even Strauss’s self-quotations don’t feel indulgent.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised; Järvi’s sleeve note points out that this orchestra has long had an affinity with the Austro-German repertoire, working with the likes of Horst Stein and Wolfgang Sawallisch. There’s not a weak link; strings play with warmth and depth of sound, the brass immaculate and crucially never too loud. Don Juan is the coupling – a reading slightly more expansive than you’d expect, but still compelling. Sample the big tune ten minutes in and swoon. Quite wonderful. This is the first disc in a projected Strauss series, so hopefully there’ll be more soon. Wonderfully engineered too; these are live recordings with real presence.


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