- Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 40 (TrV 190)
- Der Bürger als Edelmann (Le bourgeois gentilhomme), suite from the ballet for orchestra, Op. 60-IIIa (TrV 228c)
- Pub. Date:
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Of the many recordings -- virtually all of them captured live in concert -- that Simon Rattle has made with the Berlin Philharmonic since taking over as music director just a few years ago, some have pushed the orchestra into exciting new territory (like Messiaen's Éclairs sur l'Au-delà) while others have played to the ensemble's familiar strengths. This meaty recording of Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben falls squarely into the latter category, and it sounds as richly saturated and full-bodied as you'd expect it to. Although the orchestra has a strong track record in Strauss, Rattle has never made a specialty of the composer -- especially compared to Strauss' contemporary Gustav Mahler, with whose symphonies Rattle has been strongly associated since early in his career -- so Rattle's Heldenleben would be worth hearing on these grounds alone. But it turns out to be a deeply persuasive performance, lushly lyrical in the portrait of "The Hero's Companion" -- a.k.a. the composer's wife -- and boisterously fun when the autobiographical hero battles his critics. Better still, partly because it's so much less frequently encountered, is Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Strauss' suite of incidental music for the Molieère play. Full of humorous neo-Baroque pastiche -- and outright quotations from Lully, as well as Wagner and even Strauss' own works -- the suite sounds radically different from Heldenleben. Still, in its lean and precise way it's just as enjoyable, working like an antidote after the earlier work's richness and filling out a highly satisfying Strauss menu.
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