SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
RICHARD STRAUSS: Josephs Legende, Op. 63 ballet – Budapest Festival Orchestra/ Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics
Published on June 19, 2007
We can thank conductor Ivan Fischer for his interest and belief in this rarely-heard and rarely-performed full-length ballet by Richard Strauss. It’s the first hi-res recording, and only the second recording of recent years (Giuseppe Sinopoli did a standard CD version in 2000). The work is interesting from many standpoints. It is one of the very few complete ballets ever by a German composer. It was supposed to have had the famous Nijinsky dancing the lead role of Joseph but at the last minute he suddenly ran off with a Hungarian lady he met on a transatlantic voyage and broke with Diagilev’s company who were mounting the work.
The scenario concerns the apocryphal biblical story of the attempted seduction of the young Joseph by Potiphar’s wife; it also appears in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat. Somehow this is stretched out to a full-length ballet. The very detailed scene-by-scene booklet describes by exact disc timings the progression of the story, with cues such as “dance of the women,” “she puts both arms around him,” “Joseph and the angel stride onwards…” You get the idea.
It’s the music and distinctive orchestrations of Strauss which hold the main interest here, especially in the beautifully detailed and immersive multichannel pickup provided by Channel Classics. There is an interesting figuration in the high strings that is frequently heard as part of the sumptuous instrumentation. While some sections will remind one of Also Sprach and other Strauss works, Josephs Legende is a unique piece and it is surprising it has been so ignored in the general strong interest in the composer’s other major works.
– John Sunier