Strauss and Julian Lloyd Webber CD reviews


STRAUSS: Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia / Sir Antonio Pappano ★★★★

Pappano prioritizes the thematic over the programmatic in this recording of Richard Strauss's musical self-portrait Ein Heldenleben. The structure of recurring themes and their symphony-like skein is apparent, making it seem less a series of dazzling and thrilling set-pieces. The latter are still there but never in bold primary colours or heavily underlined. With Pappano's slightly cooler approach, emphasising sheer beauty of sound over orchestral clout, it's not surprising that Strauss's intimate musical portrait of his marriage, a long operatic scena without words, is particularly successful. For those wanting a higher octane approach – with a monumental battle scene – Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic are nonpareil with Decca's spectacular Sofiensaal sound eclipsing Pappano's live recording. Soloist Bertrand Chamayou is witty, with a humorous glint in his eye, in Strauss's mock piano concerto Burleske. He, conductor and orchestra delight in Strauss's genial send-up of the traditional (Brahms) and progressive (Liszt) keyboard styles.

Norman Stinchcombe

THE SINGING STRAD: Julian Lloyd Webber ★★★★

This three disc set celebrates Webber's 70th birthday – all recordings made using his Barjansky Stradivarius – drawn from his twenty-year catalogue, now deleted, made for the defunct Philips label. Strangely it doesn't include Webber's finest recording, a zestful Dvorak concerto with authentic Bohemian accents from the Czech Philharmonic made in Prague. The jacket blurb says the recordings were "all chosen by Julian himself" but its omission might be a marketing ploy allowing a neat division of a disc each devoted to English, French and Russian music. Still there's lots to enjoy: Elgar's concerto, passionate but not heart-on-sleeve; the melodic and suave Saint-Saens Concert No.1; a scintillating Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations and the darkly brooding Shostakovich cello sonata. The major works are leavened with lollipops – Rimsky's Flight of the Bumblebee, Massenet's Meditation et al – and Jackie's Song, Webber's own touching tribute to cellist Jaqueline du Pre. All recordings in top quality Philips sound.

Norman Stinchcombe

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