Joseph Keilberth

Richard Strauss: Intermezzo

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Strauss was inveterately autobiographical, as demonstrated in his tone poems Ein Heldenleben and Sinfonia Domestica, and several of his operas feature composers as major characters. The opera Intermezzo (1918-1923) takes the cake for explicit self-exposure, though; with a libretto by the composer, it's a transparent portrait of a particularly stormy incident in his relationship with his formidable wife Pauline. Written just after Die Frau ohne Schatten and his revised version of Ariadne auf Naxos, it's the first of his operas primarily written in the casually conversational vocal style that came to characterize much of his later operatic work. It remains one of his least performed operas, and this release of a 1963 performance from Wiener Staatsoper marks one of its few appearances on CD. Joseph Keilberth conducts a performance that's spirited but somewhat orchestrally ragged. The strings' intonation in their upper register is sometimes distressingly approximate (which is understandable, since Strauss mercilessly keeps them soaring into the stratosphere), and attacks and releases are not always precise. The parlando vocal writing only very occasionally attains the level of sustained melody; it's in the numerous orchestral interludes that Strauss allows himself to unleash a sumptuous post-Romantic effusion. The singers, therefore, have to be exceptionally skilled at acting with their voices, and the soloists here, Hanny Steffek as Christine, Hermann Prey as Storch, and Ferry Gruber as Baron Lummer, effectively put across the characters' eccentricities and foibles. Steffek and Prey additionally sing with beautiful tone, but Gruber is a little wobbly. Orfeo's sound is slightly distant, but is basically clear and balanced.

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