Marek Janowski

Richard Strauss: Symphonica Domestica & Die Tageszeiten

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Richard Strauss' Symphonia Domestica was described by its composer this way: "My next tone poem will represent a day in my family life. It will be partly lyrical, partly humorous -- a triple fugue will bring together Papa, Mama, and Baby." This brings the whole picture, from screaming kids to striking clocks to marital disputes. While critics dithered over whether this was fit subject matter for symphonic music, especially when it came in the Adagio to a post-Wagnerian conjugal love scene that even today qualifies as pretty sexy, the work had its premiere in the U.S., and the great American public took to the symphony enthusiastically. The critics need not have worried, for the symphony's simplicity is deceptive, and in matters of orchestration and structure (the program constantly plays off more abstract ideas such as the above-mentioned fugue) it is actually among Strauss' most subtle works. Conductor Marek Janowski, leading the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, offers a spacious, relaxed reading that picks up plenty of detail, sacrificing forward energy in the interest of wandering into the corners of the work's musical spaces, which are as large as those of the Alpine Symphony and Also Sprach Zarathustra. There's much to be recommended in Janowski's approach, but even if some don't buy it, the recording is a must-have for Strauss lovers for two other reasons. First is the presence of the four male chorus-and-orchestra songs collectively entitled Die Tageszeiten, Op. 76 (The Times of Day). Not only does this make an ideal thematic counterpart to the symphony; it begins to address a gaping lack of performances of male choral repertory, which any concertgoer of a century ago would have considered of vital importance. These late songs, settings of poems by Eichendorff, are luminously lyrical, and they're within the reach of good city choirs who could be pressed into service to perform them in symphonic concerts. Here's hoping they get heard more often, but it would be hard to imagine a more idiomatic performance than that given by the men of the Berlin Radio Chorus. The second strong feature is the studio engineering, from Berlin's Haus des Rundfunks, which will repay high stereo system expenses but is not well suited to the compression of common digital media. Highly recommended.

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