Choice of the Month, BBC Music Magazine, March 2013
Music Web International, March 2013: "This is a super disc. The sound is magnificent - I listened to the disc as a CD - and the performances of both pieces are very fine indeed"; Classical Music Sentinel, November 2012: "In this new recording, conductor Frank Shipway and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra take full advantage of this splendid score and capture the raw-grit-mixed-with-philosophical-loftiness essence of this work. And all of it captured in wonderful sound, where for once one can clearly hear the pipe organ, and the thunder and wind machines to full effect".
Called a ‘symphony’ by its composer, Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony is nevertheless a symphonic poem, and as such it is the last in a series of works that includes such masterpieces as Don Juan, Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben.
In 1900, when Strauss first mentioned any plans for the work, he spoke of a symphonic poem in two parts that would begin with a sunrise in Switzerland. When he returned to the idea some ten years later, the work soon grew so vast that he decided to be content with one single movement, depicting the ‘worship of eternal glorious nature’.
To regard the Alpensinfonie simply as an impression of landscape would be a mistake, however. It does make use of Strauss’ entire repertoire of orchestral pictorialism, but behind it are ideas much less simple: nature is being worshipped in the intoxicated spirit of Nietzsche’s superman, the liberation of the soul is achieved through hard work – the climber’s struggle to gain the mountaintop.
The work is divided into 22 sections that flow in an unbroken sequence, marking the ascent and descent of the mountain, from before sunrise to after sunset. It was scored for the largest orchestra ever used by Strauss for a purely orchestral piece, and he later said that it was in the Alpine Symphony that he had ‘finally learned how to orchestrate’.
The experience must in any case have been useful when he composed his next work, the opera Die Frau ohne Schatten, with an even more opulent orchestration. The opera was premièred in 1919, but it wasn’t until 1946 that Strauss, in his 82nd year, returned to the score in order to make his Symphonic Fantasy, based on high points from the opera.
These huge, and enormously colourful works are performed here by the eminent São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, whose highly praised recordings of the Choros by Villa-Lobos have been described as ‘an orgy of colours and rhythms’ (Diapason) and ‘an assured blend of lush colours, pulsating rhythms and supple phrasing’ (International Record Review). The orchestra is conducted by Frank Shipway, with fine credentials in late-Romantic Austro-German repertoire.