This incident-packed Heldenleben is somewhat compromised by recorded sound that can be fierce and airless, if vivid – compelling in a tumultuous ‘Battle’, as cacophonous, assaultive and thrilling as any I know (although the smallest of scooping details in the right-positioned second violins – track 4, 2’26” – makes me smile), Antonio Pappano and his Rome-based orchestra pulling out all the stops. Elsewhere they revel in all the purple patches this self-aggrandising score possesses (composer as Hero) and sweep the listener along. Concertmaster Roberto González-Monjas’s violin solos perhaps lack the coquettishness that can be afforded the love of the Hero’s life (effectively Frau Strauss, Pauline de Ahna) although his stylish playing certainly suggests her turn-on-a-sixpence irascibility as well her come-hither entreaties – an X-rated climax follows.
Also ear-catching (following Hero’s triumphant victory-in-war lap-of-honour; suitably heroic horns) is the self-quotation section (harp unusually prominent) in which reminiscences are touchingly lingered over (ditto the end of the work when Hero and Companion fade into the sunset). In between (track 6, 3’57”-5’10”) is a passage of the utmost eloquence, the music hugged lingeringly by conductor and players, the listener embraced to tearfulness.
There is but a one-second gap between Heldenleben and Burleske, captured in even brighter sound (did something go awry in post-production?) although there is a just balance between Bertrand Chamayou’s piano and the Cecilians, even if all are brought very close. Burleske is a curious piece, something of a piss-take (sorry!) at the expense of the Romantic Piano Concerto, at once jokey, lush and dramatic (a starring role for an interventionist timpanist), with lyricism that is more akin to Rachmaninov than Strauss. It’s a scintillating (Chamayou quite brilliant) and relished reading, the performers enjoying Strauss’s wit, bravado and sense of theatre.