Domestic bliss at the RFH

Most of Richard Strauss's tone poems were on an epic scale - Heldenleben, Eine Alpensinfonie - so it's a little surprising to find one which is about his domestic life - the Symphonia Domestica. Of course some marriages are epic... and Strauss's was occasionally stormy (his wife was pretty strong-willed) but also loving. The work which was premiered in 1904, originally had associated programme notes detailing the family incidents represented, but Strauss later withdrew these; and indeed the work is better regarded as a general portrait of the emotions, tensions, and rewards of family life. Themes representing the husband, the wife and the baby (this last played on the rarely-heard oboe d'amore) are intertwined and developed over the 45 minutes of the piece, with Strauss's typical mastery of orchestral colour and detail. Hopes and dreams for the future, love for the child, and even a family row (represented by a complex fugue) are all present in the score: the overall construction is rather amorphous, which makes for less easy listening than the better-known tone poems, but the work is attractive and involving: as the main work in yesterday evening's concert at the Royal Festival Hall it was handled with the tight control needed to stop it sprawling by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder.

The supporting programme in the first half began with The Frescoes of Piero Della Francesca by Bohuslav Martinu : composed in 1955 it was inspired by a series of frescoes in the church of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy, which present scenes from mediaeval legends about the supposed origins of the wood for the Cross (on the right is The Dream of Constantine). The score shimmers with mysticism: Martinu's individual style and use of a large orchestra takes us into a half perceived world of legend and mystery.

A concert with two little-known works such as these needs a crowd-pleaser to get the audiences in: this time it was the Mendelssohn E minor Violin Concerto, played by Anne-Sophie Mutter - too fast, as usual, sometimes at the expense of accuracy. It got rapturous applause, but why almost every modern violinist thinks the final movement has to be taken as fast as they possibly can is a mystery to me. It's a warm and charming work, but not the way it was played yesterday.

Posted: Sun - January 25, 2009 at 09:17 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM