I don't listen to Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony very often - not because I don't like it, but perhaps because I like it too much. Also sprach Zarathustra and Die Frau ohne Schatten are commonly thought of as Strauss's most metaphysical works. A case can be made, I think, for this program symphony, which Strauss completed shortly after he had entered his sixth decade. As a friend of mine once said about this work, "It's not about a mountain." Or, it's about something more than that. The stony presence that uncannily looms over the listener at the start and again at the end of the work could be Fate itself, or any massive human endeavor not easily undertaken. Who is the victor at the end of the Alpine Symphony ? True, Man has reached the summit, but he is quickly driven back down by a thunderstorm whose ferocity is hardly equaled in the orchestral repertoire. One might well ask if the mountain-climber's adventure ended in his annihilation.
This is a live recording, made during Thielemann's Vienna Philharmonic debut at the Musikverein in October 2000. The CD booklet includes glowing reviews of the occasion from the press. Not all critics were wowed, however; one criticized Thielemann of getting "carried away" and "deliver[ing] a massive climax where it is not really needed," the implication being that this conductor's performance is "bombastic and overblown." This just goes to show that reviewing is not a science, but rather a subjective art: I liked this CD. This is a young man's performance, extraverted and sensuous. Conductors such as Haitink and Kempe made more of the music's philosophical aspects. Thielemann revels in the score's colors, but I don't think his ebullience creates structural weaknesses, as at least one other reviewer has suggested. In short, I found this to be a very satisfying performance of Eine Alpensinfonie, and one that reaches great heights of eloquence at the climaxes. I'm not going to throw away my other recordings of this work, though. Minor orchestral glitches, such as a sour trumpet right at the end of "Thunderstorm, descent," have not been fixed, and I am OK with that.
The Rosenkavalier-Suite, probably an arrangement by conductor Artur Rodzinski, is a comprehensive fantasy 24 minutes in length, and it is not to be confused with various Rosenkavalier Waltzes that occasionally appear on concert programs and on discs. Thielemann conducts this music with little sentimentality. If anything, he emphasizes the farcical elements of Strauss's opera. Again, this clearly is not the work of one of the podium's Grand Old Men. The performance preserved here is a viable alternative, excellently done, but not necessarily the last word.
I found the engineering throughout this disc to be solid, if not as polished as a studio effort would have been.
Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle