Shipway’s Bad Day in the Alps

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 5

Sound Quality: 9

BIS has made some outstanding recordings with the São Paulo Symphony, but the label’s got to get smarter both with conductors and repertoire. At nearly 53 tedious minutes, this is one of the slowest versions of An Alpine Symphony on disc. Of all Strauss tone poems, this is the one that can least afford a leisurely approach (maybe also the Sinfonia domestica, or Ein Heldenleben, or Don Quixote, or…never mind). Of course, timings never tell the whole story. On the whole the orchestra plays decently, despite the lack of punch from the lower brass at the climaxes and a certain density of texture that compounds the heaviness of the interpretation. But it’s safe to say that there is no acceptable version of this score that lasts more than a few seconds past 50 minutes, and the best of them, such as Kord’s and Solti’s, run around 45.

The fault, then, rests squarely with conductor Frank Shipway. His flowering meadows and Alpine pastures seem to go on forever. The “still before the storm” is deathly, and when the tempest arrives it lacks ferocity. The concluding 10 minutes sound more like 10 hours. None of this bodes well for the coupling, the Frau symphonic fantasy, which basically contains all of the opera’s dullest music. It needs far more help than Shipway has it in him to provide. BIS’s excellent SACD sonics only serve to highlight the fact that the faults lie squarely with the uninspired interpretations.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Warsaw Philharmonic/Kord (CD Accord)

    An Alpine Symphony; Symphonic Fantasy from Die Frau ohne Schatten

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