Opulent Strauss from Järvi

R, STRAUSS: JOSEPHLEGENDE, etc. Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme Järvi CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5120  During the 1980’s and 90’s Neeme Järvi made a number of impressive recordings with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for Chandos of orchestral works by Richard Strauss. When he moved to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra he added further Strauss recordings to his already comprehensive survey of this composer’s oeuvre.  One of these was the ‘Symphonic Fragment from Josephslegende’. This is a cut-and-paste version of the full ballet, scored for a smaller orchestra, that Strauss made at the request of his publishers in 1947. Now, in the Indian summer of his recording career, Järvi has returned to Scotland to give us not just a spectacular account of the complete 1914 ‘Josephslegende’  but also two interesting fill-ups making their first appearance on SACD. Though few would deny that ‘Josephslegende’ is not among Strauss’s finest works (by 1914 composing opera had become his main interest) it does show a composer at the height of his powers and demonstrates his ability to handle huge orchestral forces with supreme confidence. The orchestration is breathtaking and the work’s melodic richness is undeniable. On disc it calls for the finest sound quality, something that only SACD can deliver. Comparisons with Ivan Fischer’s excellent 2007 recording do favour the newcomer in at least two important respects. The sonics on this Chandos disc (5.0 surround sound 24-bit/96kHz) are warmer and fuller than those on Channel’s clear, but slightly chilly DSD recording and the weighty presence of an organ in the ballet’s final section is patently audible. Perhaps more importantly, Järvi’s more urgent tempi and sense of drama ensure that the intrinsic lack of inspiration evident in parts of the score is more easily ignored – overall timings are Järvi 58.16 against Fischer’s 64.30. The playing of the RSNO is marvellous throughout and certainly matches that of the Budapest Festival Orchestra for Fischer. Strauss’s rarely performed second opera ‘Feuersnot’ ends with an orchestral passage during which the hero and heroine consummate their love to evocative and erotically charged music. The RSNO and Järvi perform this ‘Liebesszene’ with sensitivity and passion in equal measure. Finally Järvi gives us a spirited account of the 12 year-old Strauss’s first published orchestral piece the ‘Festmarsch’ Op. 1.Though lacking real originality ( its debt to the finale of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony being all too obvious) it does show remarkable assurance from one so young, and is certainly worth an occasional outing. It would be wonderful if Chandos could persuade Järvi to make a complete recording of Strauss’s only other ballet ‘Schlagobers’ on SACD to complement his earlier CD version of excerpts from that work. For now, however, this is a release that should be added to the library of all committed Straussians and warrants an unqualified recommendation.