Inspired by the view from his home near the Bavarian Alps and his life-long love with the mountains, Richard Strauss' Alpensinfonie is one of the composer's most densely orchestrated works, calling for an immense orchestra that includes off-stage brass, a wind and thunder machine, and an organ, not to mention the augmented wind and string sections. Strauss uses this massive orchestra like a scalpel to paint the story of the ascent of a peak, reaching the summit, and finally the descent. Recordings of a work of such vast scope face an uphill battle (pun intended) to imitate the same impact that listeners would experience in live performance. This performance by the Orchestre National de France under the direction of Kurt Masur makes a valiant attempt. Masur's interpretive vision is as vast as the score itself; he leads the orchestra through a technically brilliant performance marked by an impressive dynamic range, brilliantly used rubato and shifts in tempo, remarkable contrasts in texture and tone, and an overall balance between the different sections that is notable given the number of musicians involved. The only thing standing in the way of this disc's quality is Radio France's recorded sound quality itself. Despite the obvious power, intensity, and drama that Masur's orchestra puts forth, the sound quality is disappointingly distant, as if listening from the hall's lobby instead of the center of the orchestra section. Still, the performance itself could scarcely be improved upon, but listeners who prefer a more present, focused recorded sound may find themselves a bit disenchanted here.
AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell
|Symphonie alpestre, Op. 64|