San Francisco Symphony's cautious 'Heldenleben'

April 24, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Strauss, "Ein Heldenleben" and "Metamorphosen," performed by the San Francisco Symphony, Herbert Blomstedt conducting (London 436 596-2):

There is more ceaseless duplication in the classical record industry than in almost any other business I can think of. Symphony orchestras spend fortunes making records for no other reason than to keep their names before the public -- it doesn't matter that they usually don't sell. This one shouldn't.

Herbert Blomstedt, now in his next to last year as music director of the San Francisco Symphony, has refined and improved the fine orchestra he inherited more than 10 years ago from Edo de Waart. Together, this team has made recordings worth owning of the Nielsen and Sibelius symphonies, and this record proves that they can play "Heldenleben" ("A Hero's Life"), which is one of the great tests of an orchestra's virtuosity and of a recording engineer's skill in capturing the full dynamic range of the ensemble.

But when you listen to a performance of "Heldenleben," you don't want to know that the orchestra can "play" it. You want to know that they can play it so well that they could repeat it 10 times consecutively without tiring; you want your socks blown off. This sober, careful performance does not do that. There are many that do and the very best of them is Fritz Reiner's 1954 account with the Chicago Symphony -- a performance that even manages to suggest that there is profundity beneath the Straussian glitter -- on a still great sounding RCA Red Seal disc.

Blomstedt's version of "Metamorphosen" for strings -- one of Strauss' last and darkest works -- is more in line with this conductor's thoughtful temperament. But there are even more beautiful performances by Karajan and by Furtwangler (Deutsche Grammophon) and by Klemperer (EMI).


Schubert, Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in E-flat (opus 100), performed by pianist Edward Auer, violinist Arturo Delmoni and Cellist Nathaniel Rosen. Schubert, Sonatina in G Minor (opus 134), performed by violinist Arturo Delmoni and pianist Edward Auer (Clarity Recordings CCD-1007):

Because these performances are on Clarity, a small audiophile label, this record may be difficult to find. Look for it. The Schubert E-flat Trio is one of the composer's last and greatest pieces, written as he was dying from syphilis, and this is among the finest versions now on records.

Although they have been neglected by major record companies, the three artists rank among the best on their instruments in this country and they have been playing together for their own pleasure and at festivals for years. Auer's piano playing is consistently imaginative and the string playing is gorgeous; the slow movement, in which Delmoni and Rosen must give the impression of a broken-hearted lover accompanying himself on the guitar, is alone worth the price of the record.

Another plus of this performance is that the composer's "heavenly lengths" (in Schumann's phrase) have rarely been so honored. Unlike most other recordings of the E-flat Trio, this one is completely uncut -- even in the final movement, which runs almost 20 minutes in this performance. Delmoni and Auer play the much lighter, earlier Sonatina with charm and grace.

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