The star of this concert from the 2011 Salzburg Festival clearly is Renée Fleming. This is one of those instances when the singer on the program doesn't have to warm up and gradually become involved: Fleming turns on the passion full throttle in the opening lied, Befreit. What a ravishing and committed performance this is! Bravo! The soprano was fifty-two at the time of this concert and her voice is as powerful and beautiful as ever. I would say it has darkened in tone perhaps only very slightly. Otherwise, it is youthful in sound and quite remarkable. But her phrasing and grasp of the emotional flow of the words and music are always sensitive and intelligent as well. All these virtues are present in every number here. Try Gesang der Apollopriesterin for another truly magnificent performance. But to select even this effort as a highlight would suggest it stands above the others in some way. The truth is, every performance is outstanding and I can say no more except that if there were nothing else on this disc of note, I would still recommend it for the twenty-five or so minutes she's on stage. But there is more.
Christian Thielemann leads a solid, colorful and fairly straightforward reading of the Strauss Eine Alpensinfonie, a work comprised of twenty-two episodes depicting a one-day, rather exciting and sometimes perilous climb up and down an Alpine hillside. Really, the work is metaphoric as a representation of a challenging trip through life. Thielemann is very attentive to bringing out meaningful detail in this often complex score. In fact, I would say this is probably the most detailed and transparent reading of the work I've ever encountered. While I have used such adjectives as "solid" and "straightforward" to describe Thielemann's reading, I don't mean to damn his effort with faint praise. This is a fine, extremely well played performance of the work, and you won't go wrong with it. It may lack a bit of the passion that Fleming brought to her performances, but it is a powerful, epic, atmospheric, and highly-detailed effort. Strauss's colorful waterfall and storm effects are brilliantly realized here, and anyone wanting to examine his imaginative and complex orchestration will hear as much of it here as in any recording, at least any I know of. Tempos tend toward the moderate-to-slow side, and sonorities often come across as lush, even in their detailed clarity.
Antoni Wit has an excellent version of An Alpine Symphony on Naxos, and other conductors, like Mehta (Decca), have also offered fine renditions of this work. Thielemann himself recorded it before, for DG, and with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra too, which was issued in 2001. That effort was marginally slower and not much different in approach to this later one. The new Thielemann DVD is one of the few video performances of An Alpine Symphony and features excellent sound and splendid camera work.
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings