Aldeburgh Strings and Winds - R. Strauss: Metamorphosen - Gramophone

Richard Strauss didn't do himself any favours when he called his late compositions 'wrist exercises', and I'll confess that previous encounters with his wind music have occasionally brought that unworthy thought to mind. This new recording of his 1944-45 symphony for wind instruments (Sonatina No 2) from Aldeburgh Winds - a sort of supergroup of Britten-Pears Orchestra alumni - is a different matter. Listen to the introduction to the finale: the sepulchral richness of those Wagnerian chords, the eloquence and colour of the solo responses and most of all, the spaciousness - the way the group's director Nicholas Daniel places each phrase. Strauss never actually called the piece a symphony but here it feels like one. Daniel's feeling for Strauss's longrange ebb and flow is one of the great attractions of this disc; you get the impression he's happy to oversee the general pacing and balance and then trust his players to do the rest. And rightly: they make a glorious sound. A full-fat horn section, in particular, gives a wonderfully Bavarian, Baron Ochs sort of feel to the early Serenade Op 7. But throughout, there's enough character and clarity of attack to keep the whole thing buoyant - and to defy the luxurious temptations of Strauss's cushions of horn and clarinet tone. Metamorphosen is slightly more problematic. The string-playing, as you'd expect, is beautiful enough, and the tastefully applied portamentos only occasionally sound self-conscious. Tempos are on the broad side. But much of the secret of Strauss lies in the transitions; and while not every performance can generate Karajan-like levels of emotional intensity, Markus Däunert's direction seems to lack - well, a wholly convincing sense of direction. This is a good, musicianly Metamorphosen. But it glows rather than burns.

01 July 2017