Edo de Waart/Netherlands Wind Ensemble (1970)
Strauss' publisher gave this piece the title Symphony for Winds on account of its length (about 40 minutes), but the character of the music better fits Strauss' own title. To some, the length becomes a problem, and the piece wears out its welcome. However, this is a fine work, to me the best of the wind-ensemble pieces. For once, Strauss manages to treat the forces less like an orchestra and more like a chamber group. He superbly varies the textures, even with the expanded clarinet forces that homogenized the sound of the Sonatine No. 1. The invention never flags. Surprises wait in every movement – a canonic duet and trio in the Minuet, for example. If it hasn't the depth of Metamorphosen, its purpose – an enjoyable piece for players – and its dedication "to the spirit of the immortal Mozart" (especially the Mozart of the divertimentos and serenades) make it one of Strauss' most easy-to-love works. The spirits of Mendelssohn and Brahms (although not their idioms) show up, in addition to that of Mozart.
Nevertheless, the work, written with Strauss' usual masterly technique, is extremely difficult to bring off. Players do like performing it, but often for reasons that have to do more with the gratefulness and the stylistic range of the parts, rather than with communicating the emotional message. An audience may sit still throughout its course and have no notion why, other than out of politeness.
De Waart and the Netherlands Wind Ensemble do a fair job; in fact, this stands at the top of their performances of Strauss' wind music. They approach the emotional world of late Strauss – as elusive as that of the late chamber works of Mozart. It's a complex, even contradictory world – nostalgic, casually sophisticated, fundamentally innocent, and high-spirited in the sense of play and nobility, quintessentially Apollonian. Perhaps no one can give you all that, but over all they play very well indeed. The ensemble is together, sometimes too rigidly so, without the subtle flexibility of color Strauss has written in. The finale (an Introduction and Allegro that Strauss wrote first as an independent movement) comes off least successfully. A somewhat lugubrious introduction leads to an outpouring, a rush, of Spring-like music (the transition from one to the other alone points out a master). Yet Strauss brings the introductory music back several times throughout the movement. At first, it marks off structurally important points, but as the work unfolds, the breaks in the generally sprightly flow become odder and odder until it crosses the edge into real humor. De Waart misses the joke and takes everything at face value. An earnest account with some fine moments.
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