A Good Ein Heldenleben And A Brilliant Burleske

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Several recent recordings of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben featured excellent orchestras giving faceless performances, thanks in no small part to their conductors. Here’s the opposite: a less than top-tier orchestra giving its all under the direction of a conductor who constantly conveys character and shape, and understands how to organize the score’s massive and often convoluted textural strands, while keeping the interminable hero’s girlfriend and death sequences moving.

In the opening section, Antonio Pappano lets the violins gush without impeding momentum, while the woodwind solos are supported by clearly articulated pizzicatos. The Hero’s Adversaries may not feature the brashest first-desk cacophony around, but one cannot deny their characterful scurrying and Pappano’s animated pacing. Likewise, concertmaster Roberto González-Monjas’ light and agile virtuosity keeps the overextended solo-violin episodes alive and afloat–a refreshing contrast to the kitschy throbbing that too many concertmasters deem expressive (the Vienna Philharmonic’s Rainer Honeck under Christian Thielemann’s vulgar leadership on DG, for example).

However, the orchestra turns in absolutely world-class and rhythmically incisive work throughout one of the most bracing, transparent, and supple performances of the Burleske I’ve ever heard, and I’m not forgetting the likes of Ax, Serkin, Hamelin, or Argerich. What astounding control and winged élan pianist Bertrand Chamayou brings to his near-breakneck tempos. How Pappano’s hard-hitting accents, overall ferocity, and expertly dovetailed interplay with his soloist manage to convey tension and geniality at the same time, I’ll never know. What I do know is that he and Chamayou ought to team up more often! My rating splits the difference between a good Heldenleben and a brilliant Burleske.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Ein Heldenleben: Reiner/Chicago (RCA); Haitink/Concertgebouw (Decca), Burleske: This one; Argerich/Abbado (Sony); Serkin/Ormandy (Sony)

  • Bertrand Chamayou (piano)
  • Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano

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