Georges Pretre on CD – Richard Strauss

0 of 5 stars

Richard Strauss
Der Rosenkavalier – Suite
Don Juan
Till Eulenspiegel

Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georges Pretre

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2001

So soon after Pretre’s CD of Bizet and Ravel, (Read the review here), I am delighted to have an opportunity to sample his Richard Strauss, a composer he has particular affection for.

This sort of archive release is an invaluable way of keeping tabs on those artists that haven’t quite ’made it’ in terms of being household names; Georges Pretre is one such I suppose, so too Michael Gielen, Hans Zender, Horst Stein, Serge Baudo and Jean Fournet – and a whole host of others. Getting this into perspective, all the afore-mentioned have had, are having, fine careers; their skills are appreciated. Equally, of the ’big’ conductors, some warrant their pre-eminence, some don’t; naturally we all have a different opinion, but the blind faith that some engender is disturbing – the accolades out of proportion to their abilities.

From where I’m coming from – the music comes first. It’s what the conductor finds in it, what he puts in of himself – whatever it maybe (and this can’t be pre-defined) – that benefits and complements the music; the active listener will relate what he hears to his own internal-grounding of a piece with a flexible response that alerts on a particular insight, an observation, something new placed into the music. This filtering of convictions – yes, no, i.e. a critical response – will also present a portrait of the interpreter.

It seems to me that Georges Pretre’s work is determined by two principle characteristics. The first is an emotional commitment that comes essentially from being a music-lover. That might seem a superfluous statement – his is a simple love; what shines through is the uncomplicated communication of music’s emotional core, which Pretre shares directly with us. This grabs the attention – in all three Strauss pieces on this CD there is an ardent focus magnetic enough to bring a listener directly into the music’s narrative.

The second constituent of Pretre’s art is his refined and discriminating response to colour. He’s a meticulous rehearser I imagine; time and time again, the ear alights on a particular sound-blend, an interesting balance or articulation, an internal stress that is individual; subtle too – Pretre is a musician who not only shows you the wood, he knows each tree and the part they all have in the whole.

On the face of it, we don’t need any more issues of this oft-recorded music. Frankly, I get rather tired of these Straussian favourites; I’ve now listened to each work three times from Pretre. Der Rosenkavalier – opera or suite – doesn’t do a lot for me, but I love Pretre’s way with it. His response isn’t to trickle more sugar over it – instead he finds the human response underlying it. He’s not afraid to indulge a few rallentandos or insert some hesitations; it all speaks, and convinces, because it’s done with an open-heart and ravishing tenderness – but not applied. As a foundation for this is Pretre’s regard for sound itself – a particular colour, blend and dynamic is sought out, placed, adding another dimension, something judicious to the more overt emotionalism already cited.

So it’s Pretre for Sainthood then? No, not quite. There are times when his manipulation doesn’t quite convince – something too marked or underlined can disrupt proceedings for no good reason (there’s a few examples in Don Juan). And if ensemble is a bit dicey at times, it should be remembered that these are live performances with no opportunity for re-takes; generally, the SRSO is a very responsive band. Der Rosenkavalier was given, very appropriately, in Vienna (the Musikverein in 1998); Don and Till are from Stuttgart, ’95 and ’97 respectively – the sound is consistently well balanced and lucidly detailed.

I like Pretre’s witty and graphic Till, which bustles with incident. As I say Der Rosenkavalier is wonderfully well done; Don Juan is at its best in the lyrical episodes, which linger with feeling. Pretre’s an old-fashioned musician, one who is uninhibited and personal in his expressivity, something intelligently tempered by musical responsibility.

If he doesn’t quite have the architectural guile of a Boult or a Klemperer, or seek orchestral precision to challenge a Reiner or a Szell, Pretre brings an honesty and commitment to his work, and his sensitive and imaginative ear places him among the great orchestral conductor-painters. Hanssler’s continued advocacy of Pretre is to be treasured and more is keenly anticipated.

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