DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

R. STRAUSS: Alpine Symphony; Songs, Blu-ray (2011)

Astounding beautiful reading of the Alpine Symphony, and Fleming is a rarified bonus.

Published on August 15, 2012

R. STRAUSS: Alpine Symphony; Songs, Blu-ray (2011)

R. STRAUSS: Alpine Symphony; Songs with Renee Fleming, Blu-ray (2011)

Program: RICHARD STRAUSS: An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64; Befreit, Op. 39, No. 4; Winterliebe, Op. 48, No. 5; Traum durch die Dämmerung, Op. 29, No. 1; Gesang der Apollopriesterin, Op. 33, No. 2; Arabella, Op. 79 (concluding scene)
Performers: Renee Fleming, sop./ Vienna Philharmonic/ Christian Thielemann, cond.
Director: Michael Beyer
Studio: Opus Arte OA 1069 D [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 color 1080i HD
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and PCM 2.0 stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
All Regions
Length: 84 minutes
Rating: *****

Recorded at the 2011 Salzburg Festival, this is, simply put, the best Alpine Symphony I have ever heard. The piece has been steadily gaining in ground the last twenty years, surprisingly so, as it was for many years thought to be a late but poor addition to the Strauss symphonic poem corral. The orchestra is huge, and the thematic material perhaps not as involved as in some of the other tone poems, but the engaging and spacious chordal movement, the overwhelmingly soaring main motive, and travelogue-like 22 sections that describe a mountain journey from nighttime one day to evening the next are easily ascertained by the listener and set to highly descriptive music, as colorful as any he would ever write. Strauss, who once boasted he could set a “knife and fork” to music, comes very close here.

Christian Thielemann has an innate feeling for this piece, and conducts a wonderfully fluid and lyrical performance, punctuated often by powerful ejaculations from the brass section and some thrilling woodwind playing. My favorite has been the early issue by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but that reading has lost some of its sonic luster over the years and the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 here is broad, deep, and warmly enveloping.

Renee Fleming shares the headlines for this release and turns in some wonderful readings of songs that are not often played, and in fact were not all arranged by Strauss. But what we have are orchestrations of subtle nuance and brilliant color, and both conductor and soloist make the most of them, the closing scene from Arabella being one of the highlights on this disc. The filming is detailed and quite appropriate for a concert setting, which took place at the Große Festspielhaus.

This is mandatory, simply mandatory. You don’t want to be without it!

—Steven Ritter




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