Don Juan, Op.20
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40
NHK Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 18 & 19 February 2015 in Suntory Hall, Tokyo
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2017
CD No: RCA RED SEAL 88985391762
Duration: 61 minutes
Find the right volume setting and the recorded sound is admirably spacious, focussed, detailed and dynamic; the bass line is especially strong. The booklet includes an article by Paavo Järvi regarding this his first recording with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the beginning of a Richard Strauss project with an orchestra particularly attuned to the German repertoire, he feels, thanks to time-honoured associations with Wolfgang Sawallisch, Horst Stein and Otmar Suitner.
Don Juan is a good place to start, for Järvi relishes the exuberant opening – and ensures a really vivid timpani flourish (often not the case and a failing that can sink the whole thing) – to lead-off a brilliant account, one that avoids false sentiment without denuding the music’s capacity for sweet sensation. It is clear that the NHK players are totally dedicated to realising Järvi’s wishes, and the result is a swaggering and seductive Don Juan, played precisely and also with amorous intent, the latter quality bountifully in evidence from the principal oboist, whose phrasing and timbre tease the listener’s responses, and the horns are superbly exultant. This Don Juan is in the Kempe, Reiner and Szell moulds – direct, fiery and discerning.
Järvi is equally wholesome with Ein Heldenleben. He keeps the music on the move, without haste or harrying; it’s a glorious reading enhanced by antiphonal violins and numerous other aural delights. Some may like a little more indulgence in places, greater emphases, but what is refreshing is the current that Järvi maintains without sacrificing drama, beauty or compassion; this is a symphony with a vivid narrative, and prepared to the nth degree, yet the musicians’ interest is retained and a pictorial commentary is continually present.
Fuminori Maro Shinozaki’s violin solos – representing Hero Strauss’s wife to be – are vibrant and technically immaculate if maybe less capricious than ideal – that said, the orchestra’s response (to its concertmaster) is love at first sight. The ‘Battle’ music, heralded by realistically distant trumpets, lets rip a concentrated cacophony (perfectly weighted bass-drum strokes suggest cannon shots) until the Hero is victorious over his enemies, and so he continues, via rapt reflection (including to Don Juan, those voluptuous horns again) into retirement, a golden sunset, a tangible sense of achievement … and this concert performance fades to silence, not to applause.
However, Strauss will be back soon from Tokyo. There’s certainly room on the shelf for Paavo Järvi’s meticulous yet free-flowing conducting of his music.