Outstanding performances - Doráti at his best
Fabulous-sounding selections from the Antal Doráti Centenary Society
|"...The performance has an infectiously extrovert quality about it... Dorati's memorable interpretation...Both "The Hero's Battlefield" and the work's close are quite overwhelming in their impact. Pristine's sound... is remarkably good"
- Rob Cowan, Gramophone, Nov. 2009
"...There is already a fine recorded performance available by Krauss and the Vienna Phil., well if not faultlessly engineered, in the Decca list: this new version is a worthy rival to it. Dorati, who is thought of in this country mainly as a ballet specialist, reveals that he is equally at home in vast concert scores such as this, and with the aid of his excellent Minneapolis Orchestra (which he took over in 5949) gives a reading which is full of vitality, shapely and admirably clear. Though the strenuous parts leave little to be desired, it is the reflective sections which are given a particular beauty—the composer's musings on his previous works, or his peaceful reveries (the cor anglais theme after figure 99 in the score). The strings of the orchestra are first class, and the solo violin not only well illustrates the changeable temperament of Frau Pauline but does so with purer intonation than his Vienna Phil. rival. On the other hand, the first horn's vibrato in the coda (figure io8) is excessive and spoils the line. The trumpets heralding the battle, by the way, are played off-stage as the composer demanded—a detail which Decca passed over.
What of the recording ? Mercury have a high reputation to uphold, and they are clearly proud of their " Living Presence" quality—though I do not understand how their use of a single microphone constitutes a "unique recording technique ". The tone of the orchestra emerges pretty faithfully (though without quite the roundness and weight of the Decca version), the disc surface is completely quiet, and the recording takes the full blaze of the shattering climaxes (e.g. the enormous dominant seventh at the end of the first section) without a trace of discomfort; but the microphone placing is not ideal, the woodwind being a trifle on the weak side throughout (and hence losing some of the bitter malice of the scharf und spitzig faultfinding) and the brass a little too near, so that they tend to be a bit blatant. Nevertheless, this is a very fine issue. It is odd that, as in the Decca version too, there should suddenly be a wow on the last chord." L.S.
Notes on the recordings:
These two excellent recordings from Doráti are, we believe, appearing in a digital format for the first time. The main work here, Ein Heldenleben, was selected by the Antal Doráti Centenary Society as an 'outstanding performance' for their Society website, as well as their book Antal Doráti and the Joy of Making Music.
This remastering, from superb transfers from the Society's archive, highlights once again just how good those reknowned Mercury recordings of the 1950s were, capturing brilliantly Doráti and the Minneapolis Orchestra at their very best. From a remastering point of view this was a joy to work on.
Meanwhile the slightly older RCA Victor recording proved particularly interesting. The arrangement is somewhat unusual, made by Doráti himself, rather than the more commonly heard arrangement by Strauss himself - the two start to diverge quite significantly from about halfway through. And the recording, which came out on all three available formats at the time - 33rpm, 45rpm and 78rpm - has something of a shady past, with The Philadelphia Orchestra performing here under the pseudonym of the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra for contractual reasons.
Technically the sound quality does not scale the heights achieved two years later by the Mercury engineers - these were still very early days both for tape recording and vinyl replay - but even so, after careful restoration and remastering it does provide a remarkable and rare document of Doráti at this time.
notes from Wikipedia
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40, (literally A Heroic Life, but usually more loosely translated as A Hero's Life) is a tone poem by Richard Strauss. The work was completed in 1898, and heralds the composer’s more mature period in this genre. Strauss dedicated the piece to the 27-year old Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. It was premiered by the Frankfurter Museumsorchester.
Structure and analysis
Ein Heldenleben is a through-composed, circa fifty-minute work, performed without pauses, except for a dramatic general pause at the end of the first movement. The movements are titled as follows (later editions of the score may not show these titles, owing to the composer's request that they be Removed):
Throughout Ein Heldenleben Strauss employs the technique of leitmotif that Richard Wagner used so liberally, but most always as elements of its enlarged sonata-rondo symphonic structure.
1. The Hero: The principal Hero theme, first appearing in unison horns and celli, has a soaring quality that evokes the initial theme from Ludwig van Beethoven's Third Symphony, the "Eroica": E-flat major triads ascending through an almost four-octave span, which the horn transverses throughout the entire theme. A contrasting lyrical theme first appears in high strings and winds in B major. A second heroic motive appears, outlining a stepwise descending fourth. Blazing trumpets sound a herald as the hero rides off to his adventures to the sound of a dominant seventh chord followed by a rather unexpected grand pause, the only prolonged silence throughout the entire piece.
2. The Hero's Adversaries: The adversaries are announced with chromatic and angular squeaks and snarls from the woodwinds (commencing with flute) and low brass: multiple motives in contrasting registers and timbres convey a sound of pettiness and mocking difficult to ignore. It is said that the adversaries represented by the sarcastic woodwinds are Strauss' critics, such as 19th-century Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, who is memorably written into the score with an ominous four note leitmotif played by tenor and bass tubas in parallel fifths. The hero's theme is all that can silence them, if only for a moment.
3. The Hero's Companion: A tender melody played by a solo violin depicts the companion—most likely the wife—of the Hero. In an extended accompanied cadenza filled with extremely detailed performance instructions by Strauss, after the fashion of an operatic recitative, the violin presents new motivic material, alternating with brief interjections in low strings, winds, and brass; a spacious third motive for the hero. During this section, the violin briefly foreshadows a theme which will appear fully later. The cadenza concludes and the new thematic material is combined in a cantabile episode commencing in G flat: the hero has found his romantic voice, and a blissful atmosphere is established. Fragments of the adversary motives briefly appear amid the somnolent hush. A fresh fanfare motive in offstage trumpets, repeated onstage, announces the beginning of the battle; the hero's supporters bid him awaken.
These three initial sections comprise an elaborate exposition, with elements of a multiple-movement symphony evident in their contrasting character and tempo. The remainder of the work will comprise development, recapitulation, and coda, with occasional new thematic material.
4. The Hero's Battlefield: In this first extended development section of the work, percussion sounds the advancement of the troops as the solo trumpet blares a call of war in the first appearance of "perfect" 3/4 time: a bizarre variation of the first "adversary" motive. A calamity of the foregoing motives and themes ensues as the conflict drags on. The sweet sound of the violins remind the Hero that his beloved is waiting for his return. A sequence of clamorous (and extremely challenging) trumpet fanfares suggest a turning point in the struggle, as the music approaches a harmonic climax in G flat, and the related E flat minor. Percussion is pervasive throughout the movement, which effectively depicts a vivid, militaristic battle sequence. In the end, the Hero's theme prevails over the hastily retreating adversaries, in an unprecedented compositional tapestry of human conflict. Victory is now depicted (as 4/4 time returns) in a modified recapitulation of the Hero theme as it appeared at the beginning of the piece, this time with a majestic repeated quaver accompaniment. A new cantabile theme makes its appearance in the trumpet, and an extended elaboration of this serves to preface the next section.
5. The Hero's Works of Peace: The Hero's victory is celebrated via themes of previous works, including Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Macbeth, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan (the first to appear) and Don Quixote, and many other Strauss, including tone poems and Lieder. The peaceful and soaring melodies lead into the final section, assuaging the unrest building in our Hero.
6. The Hero's Retirement from this World and Consummation: Yet another new motive appears, commencing in a rapid descending E-flat triad, which introduces a new development of the hero theme: an elegy featuring harp, bassoon, English horn, and strings. The hero's previous works appear again in counterpoint. Shaking off worldly ideas and motivations, the Hero envisions larger and more extravagant adventures and searches for a release from his fears. The reappearance of the previous "Hanslick" motive brings in an agitato episode, as the Hero remembers the battles of his past, but is once again comforted by his companion. This is followed by a distinctly pastoral interlude featuring English horn, reminiscent of Rossini's William Tell Overture. The descending triad now appears slowly, cantabile, as the head of a new, peaceful theme in E flat: this is the theme foreshadowed during the violin cadenza. In a solemn final variation of the initial hero motive, the brass intones the last fanfare for the Hero as he retreats from his life, suggesting the beginnings of another tone poem (Also Sprach Zarathustra), a work often coupled with Ein Heldenleben.
Many critics have labeled Ein Heldenleben as shameless self-promotion on Strauss' part. They argue that Strauss was an egotist because he wrote himself as the hero, his wife as his faithful companion, and wrote sniping and crude music to depict his critics. Strauss did say after all that he found himself as interesting a subject for study as Nero or Napoleon.
The argument can be made that Strauss' self-portrayal might not have been meant to be taken seriously, as he admitted that he had tongue placed firmly in cheek when he composed this self-portrait. As Strauss explained to his friend Romain Rolland, "I am not a hero. I haven't got the necessary strength; I am not cut out for battle; I prefer to withdraw, to be quiet, to have peace ..." Many critics have taken the work's program at face value, while other continue to believe that it is, in fact, somewhat autobiographical.
To introduce his own Bach Portrait, Peter Schickele explained he wanted to do for Bach "what Copland did for Lincoln, what Tchaikovsky did for little Russians, and what Richard Strauss did for himself."
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ein_Heldenleben
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