Another dose of what I’ve come to regard as high altitude kitsch, with Strauss marking time until the next good idea. Ho hum! Richard Strauss’s most grandiose, final tone poem, An Alpine Symphony, celebrates its centenary this year.
The Saito Kinen Orchestra, founded by Seiji Ozawa, is a Japanese equivalent of Abbado’s Lucerne Festival Orchestra, or for that matter, the Australian World Orchestra, drawing Japanese players from the world’s most prestigious ensembles. Daniel Harding and his forces enter a crowded field, up against Previn, Welser-Möst, Thielemann and, naturally Karajan. Harding’s orchestra plays well, although the strings lack the last ounce of sheen. Woodwind and brass are distinguished (although the great burst of 12 horns representing the first rays of the sun always reminds me of Caro mio ben). Also, I found the very opening a little lacking in mystery and tension. The incidents, which take place during the hike are also well handled – these climbers are granite-jawed blue-eyed Aryans, not day-trippers in sensible shoes worrying about whether they’ve remembered to pack the thermos. The glacier episode exudes a real sense of danger. The ending is well handled, not drawn out too agonizingly (it’s not Mahler Nine).
Mehta indulges more of the unashamedly vulgar qualities. Likewise, this score benefits from Solti’s visceral treatment. It’s a pity Decca didn’t augment the niggardly playing time.