Composers: Strauss
Compositions: Don Quixote, Violin Concerto
Performers: Daniel Müller-Schott vc, James Ehnes v, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
Catalogue Number: ABC Classic 4817471

I’ve always marvelled at how someone as prosaically bourgeois as Richard Strauss could have composed something as strikingly original as Don Quixote, with so much humour and psychological insight. The opening of the Melbourne Symphony’s performance begins slightly haphazardly but, on hearing the almost atonal comments by the violin in the introduction, I wondered whether the slightly untidy ensemble might also be part of a musical diagnosis of the Knight Errant’s clouded mind.

This is never an easy piece to bring off in a large concert hall: its intimate, delicate textures and general understatement are the antithesis of the technicolour brashness of Ein Heldenleben, but Daniel Müller-Schott’s reading is superb, with the perfect balance of robustness, bravado and poignancy enhanced by violist Christopher Moore’s wonderfully sympathetic portrayal of Sancho Panza. My favourite section is the wonderfully grotesque bleating of the sheep from the MSO brass, an instance where Strauss manages to be both sublime and banal.

The other work is the emotional and aesthetic polarity: Strauss’s youthful Violin Concerto. Despite its Classical patina, the peerless James Ehnes imbues this piece with a charming Romantic ardour throughout the broadly conceived opening Allegro, the tender Lento and the scintillating finale. Excellent sound.