A conductor highly regarded for his early recordings of twentieth century and contemporary Polish composers such as Górecki, Lutoslawski, Kilar, and Szymanowski, Antoni Wit broadened his horizons to include more diverse and (nearly) mainstream repertoire.
Featured on this album is Richard Strauss' monumental Alpine Symphony. For this release, Naxos has paired Wit with the Weimar Staatskapelle -- an enlightened choice since the venerable master composer was once the chief Kapellmeister in the historically rich German city. Although frequently overshadowed by their colleagues in Berlin, Dresden, and Munich, the Weimar players are nonetheless impressive. They have not only strong cultural traditions, but impressive technical and artistic capabilities as well -- all of which are prerequisites for any performance of the Alpine Symphony. Strauss' early tone poem is a work that requires not only technical finesse but also towering heights of endurance. Strauss' lengthy work can quickly -- and easily -- make sauerkraut of any orchestra unprepared for its demands: many of the world's finest orchestras have brutally snowballed down the Alpine's slippery slopes.
There is anything but snowballing here, though -- in fact, the talent and promise of the Weimar Staatskapelle to eventually become a world-class orchestra shines through radiantly. What they lack in depth of sound, performance quality, and some unevenness they more than compensate for with a pure dedication and soul. Even when Wit's performance becomes too trudging and labored, as in "Visions" and "Mists Rise," there is a freshness of pace and lyrical shape to Strauss' expansive ideas. The violins are especially impressive throughout their many windy passages: somehow even in the most asphyxiating upper registers they manage to soar, creating some enormous climaxes.
Wit seems to be a master at creating large walls of sound with the Weimar players. In fact, there is a consistent, Furtwängler-esque quality of enigma and imprecision -- could it be that the orchestra's recent recordings of Furtwängler's own works on Arte Nova have permanently been etched into their sound? Regardless, while the approach is sometimes refreshing, as during "Sunrise" and "Night," it is at others maddening. Take the "Storm," for instance: would-be drama is whisked away thanks to sogginess surrounding what should be an ultra-short (but crisp) luftpause.
The sound quality from Naxos is good, but not great (as it should be in a piece of these dynamic proportions). All things considered, while this version might not compare with Karajan's, Kempe's, or Solti's, you could do far worse -- especially if you are hunting on a budget.