Some Pretty Good Strauss from Seattle
(4 out of 5 stars)
"According to the notes to this CD, conductor Gerard Schwarz thinks of Strauss's Josephslegende as a masterpiece. I disagree, but it certainly has its moments, not the least the wonderful apotheosis of an ending Strauss has written, his big orchestra scraping, blowing, and pounding away for all it's worth. And throughout, the work is gorgeously orchestrated, even by Strauss's incredibly high standards. The composer uses a lot of high percussion--cymbals, tambourine, triangle, celesta, glockenspiel--which gives the work a great deal of sheen and glow in the manner of the orchestral suites from Der Rosenkavalier or the Bourgeois Gentilhomme. However, none of its melodies really stick in the mind, and overall the piece has a generic feel to it, possibly the result how Strauss approached the project of portraying the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39). Strauss wrote to his librettist von Hofmannsthal ridiculing the piety of the story, disparaging the lead character as "God-seeker" and "good-boy" Joseph. Strauss was altogether happier writing music for the likes of Don Juan, Salome, or Electra, and it shows. Still, even middle-drawer Strauss has the great advantage of being eminently listenabe--a wonderful bath for the ears.When I first came to Richard Strauss, the Symphonia Domestica was not my cup of tea, but over the years I've come to appreciate it more and more. I'll take it any day over Strauss's more earnest (and pompous) Ein Heldenleben. Schwarz must think of the Symphonia as a masterpiece also, because he lavishes a lot of care on it. As at the end of Josephslegende, Schwarz really pulls out all the stops for the grand coda of Part III of the Symphonia. And the tender music of Part I is handled beautifully as well. Only in Part II does Schwarz seem to bog down; the lullaby section drags, and the infamous love music takes a while to get off the ground. However, the dawn music at the end of the movement is entirely magical, I think. Magical playing from the Seattle Symphony, top to bottom, helps considerably, as does Delos' excellent sound: big, wide-ranging, very truthful. So for those curious about a pleasant piece of little-known Strauss, as well as for those who want a generally fine rendition of a Strauss warhorse, I recommend this disc."