Paavo Järvi / NHK Symphony Orchestra

Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Don Juan

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This recording is one of three Strauss issues, on RCA's venerable Red Seal imprint, that mark the appointment of Estonia's Paavo Järvi as chief conductor of Japan's NHK Symphony Orchestra. Great care has obviously been taken with the preparation for the live recordings (a pair) from which the album was edited down, and the booklet comes with reflections from Järvi who, perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, discusses the orchestra's long orientation toward German music and conductors (the public space in front of the NHK's Suntory Hall is called Herbert von Karajan Platz). The pairing of the episodic tone poems Don Juan, Op. 20, and the autobiographical Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (Strauss himself is the hero of this "hero's life"), is a logical one, and even if the lush, glittering strings of the classic Austrian and German Strauss performances are not quite there, the performances hold considerable interest. There are several interesting uses of the hall's space, which the all-Japanese engineering staff obviously knows well, and every moment of the music seems thought out. Especially notable is the work of violin soloist Fuminori Maro Shinozaki, playing the part that depicts Strauss' future wife, Pauline. Sample the movement devoted to her (track 4), and hear how she occasionally sacrifices perfect tonal clarity for personality: just what's needed. The work's various quotations from earlier Strauss pieces are not overburdened, but allowed to emerge naturally. In all, this is high-level Strauss that bodes well for this new development in the inevitable and desirable expansion in classical music's Asian markets.

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