Andris Nelsons

Richard Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie; Salomes Tanz

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One might expect that no one could be better qualified to write a piece about the Alps than Richard Strauss. His home in the Bavarian Alps was greatly beloved by him and perhaps served as grand inspiration for the composer. However, Eine Alpensinfonie does not seem to be representative of the composer's most inspired, grand work; rather, it comes across as an odd pastiche of musical moments that just do not seem to adhere as a cohesive composition. This is absolutely no reflection on the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Andris Nelsons, who do an excellent job of bringing out the dynamics and contrasts and lushness in this piece as much as possible. The beginning is barely audible on this recording, but shortly after, the orchestra expands into a broader sound and has more color. Strauss uses horns, bells, and flutes to create an Alpine, ethereal touch as a hiker ascends the mountain, surrounded by cows and meadows and woods. But again, the music does not go anywhere, nor does it use enough of Strauss' famous palette and unusual harmonies to move the listener. It is not until the hiker reaches the summit that the listener is treated to Strauss' true orchestral glory with echoes of Wagner and Also sprach Zarathustra: it could easily be the soundtrack to a Leni Riefenstahl film. Also exciting is the storm, which the orchestra captures magnificently. Nelsons leads the orchestra into a dark, somber ending that is almost menacing in its simplicity. Yet despite his best efforts, Eine Alpensinfonie is not structured enough to be a symphony (it was intended originally intended to be the first movement of a full symphony), nor does it feature enough leitmotifs or clearly programmatic themes to make it a tone poem."The Dance of the Seven Veils" from Salomé conveys the sensuality of this biblical figure's dance: the listener can see each veil floating in the air, her twists and turns that tempt as she moves. The tinkling percussion, trilling oboe, and swelling harp soar above the passionate orchestra that is full of crescendos and climaxes that create high drama in the music. Nelsons and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra are a joy to listen to and make the best of the compositions they perform.

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