Metamorphoses and Zarathrustra at the RFH

Yesterday evening the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Simone Young (another lady conductor - a rare but increasing breed) performed three works by Richard Strauss at the Royal Festival Hall. The first, Metamorphosen, was written in 1944 as much of Germany was being destroyed during the final phase of World War 2. In this deeply personal piece Strauss avoids his customary luxurious orchestral colours: the work is for a small string orchestra - 23 players - playing both in concert and solo lines, and is deliberately devoid of varying tone colours or variations in tempo and general approach. Its 28 minutes demand concentrated listening: it's not an easy piece to assimilate but rewarding in Strauss's reflection of the devastation around him. The players managed almost a muted tone (without the use of actual mutes) and played it with the unsentimalized feeling the work requires.

Strauss's last work, Four Last Songs, was scheduled to be sung by Nina Stemme, but as she was unwell her place was taken at short notice by Anne Schwanewilms, who performed these gently sad songs with sensitivity and skill.

The final work was Also sprach Zarathustra, best known of course for the use of the dramatic opening fanfare in 2001, A Space Odyssey (and done to death during the television coverage of the moon landings over the next few years). The work takes its title and theme from a dense philosophical book by Nietzche, representing the thoughts and spiritual struggles of the Persian philosopher Zoroaster: I've never read this, but the excerpt quoted on the sleeve of an LP of the piece doesn't encourage me to - pseudo-mystical rantings seems to be the style. Strauss's work is probably best judged on its own: a highly dramatic piece of orchestral colour (sounding excellent in the hall's new improved acoustic) suffering only from the necessity of using an electronic organ because the hall's own organ is still undergoing restoration (the actual sound was convincing enough - these days it's not that difficult to imitate a church organ electronically - but the opening low pedal note simply didn't have the required power). Simone Young and the Orchestra gave an exciting performance, from the arresting open fanfare to the final, quiet, ending notes - unresolved both harmonically and dramatically: an unanswered question.

Posted: Sat - October 20, 2007 at 11:05 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM