Vasily Petrenko’s Strauss

Petrenko Strauss

STRAUSS: Don Quixote. Don Juan. Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche / Louisa Tuck, cel; Oslo Philharmonic Orch.; Vasily Petrenko, cond / Lawo LWC1184

There are just so many new recordings of old music that just perusing the New Releases list or catalog almost seems like déjà vu to me almost seems like déjà vu to me, thus I tend to back off from reviewing the 800th recording of fill-in-the-blank. But since I’ve always liked Vasily Petrenko and Don Quixote is my favorite work by Strauss, I thought I’d give this one a spin.

Petrenko starts Don Quixote quite slowly, albeit with a touch of humor, but increases the tempo in the early going during the brass passages. By the time we reach the double-time string figures, he seems to be hitting his stride, but pulls back the tempo whenever there’s a quiet passage. Sometimes this works to the music’s advantage, in other places it doesn’t. Our cello soloist, Louisa Tuck, has a lovely tone and plays her role very Romantically, evidently trying to bring out the unreal world in which Quixote lives. The incident with the sheep is not brought out with much humor. In some of her later passages, Tuck plays with more animation and less sentiment, which helps.

All in all, a middle-of-the-road reading that will neither thrill nor offend you, but one that doesn’t add much to our perception of the music. There are some exciting moments, but moments only; at times, Petrenko stopped the music so completely that at first I thought he might never finish it, which considerably weakens the music’s structure. The sonics, however, are quite spectacular, allowing one to hear inner voices that are often partially obscured.

After having a nice nap through Don Quixote, Petrenko definitely wakes up for his Don Juan. This is what I’m used to from Petrenko: a lively, energized performance, and here he adds considerable humor to the descending wind (flute and clarinet) figures at about the 1:20 mark. When he does relax the tempo he does not come to a standstill, but he’s still too slow and stodgy in the middle section. What happened to this guy? Has he caught Valery Gergiev disease? (Gergiev, you might recall, was one of the most exciting conductors in the world until he became music director of a British orchestra; now, all of his performances are slack and boring.) The frustrating thing is, Petrenko reverts to exciting conducting when the music picks up in tempo again, so maybe he’s suffering from Bruno Walter disease—when he comes to something beautiful, he melts—which is almost as bad.

Yup, it’s Bruno Walter Disease. He starts out Till Eulenspiegel at a tempo so slow that even old-age Strauss would have chastised him for it (watch old-age Strauss conduct a marvelous performance of the music on YouTube if you don’t believe me). Again, Petrenko picks up the pace for the fast sections, but then slows down to a crawl for the slow ones. All in all, however, the Till Eulenspiegel is the best of the three performances given here.

You may certainly enjoy this CD more than I did if you like your Strauss slow and romantic, but I found it disappointing.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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