François-Xavier Roth / SWR Baden-Baden and Freiburg Symphony Orchestra

Strauss: Tone Poems, Vol. 1

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François-Xavier Roth's series for Hänssler of the tone poems of Richard Strauss opens with two of the composer's most popular works, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) and Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration). Roth, who has often appeared with the French chamber orchestra Les Siècles, in period performances on original instruments, here leads the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg in straightforward interpretations, employing a large orchestra on modern instruments, and giving the music a full late-Romantic expression. The quasi-autobiographical Ein Heldenleben is a big, bombastic score that sounds best with spacious acoustics and transparent reproduction, and this recording certainly provides both. Strauss' score is quite dense with parts, including additional woodwinds and brass, and it is extremely active, so Roth takes care to make the orchestration as clearly articulated as possible. The dynamic range of the recording is quite wide, too, so the volume level must be set rather high to hear the finest details with lifelike tone colors. Tod und Verklärung is similarly rich with counterpoint and thick scoring, though its program and structure are much simpler than Ein Heldenleben, and at approximately half the length, it is perhaps the easiest of the two tone poems to absorb. Roth draws the orchestra out in his expansive reading, and finds a passion in the work that seems more genuine and heartfelt than Ein Heldenleben's cartoonish posturing. Listeners who are breaking into Strauss for the first time would do well to follow this promising series.

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