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Philippe Jordan's Strauss

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Strauss, Eine Alpensinfonie, op. 64, Orchestre de l'opéra national de Paris, P. Jordan

(released on May 25, 2010)
Naïve V 5233 | 52'35"
Last fall we noted the beginning of the Philippe Jordan era at the Opéra national de Paris. The young Swiss-born conductor made his first official appearance as music director with a concert that featured Strauss's last symphonic poem, Eine Alpensinfonie, and György Ligeti's violin concerto, with Isabelle Faust as the soloist. Jordan said that he chose the Strauss, an operatic work for a massive orchestra that straddles the composer's two major interests of tone poem and opera, as a way to acquaint himself with his new orchestra's full expanse, in preparation for the Ring cycle planned in Paris (it began earlier this year). Jordan says in a brief liner note that the program of the Alpine-Symphony -- a journey that begins and ends in darkness as we make an all-day ascent of a mountain summit, climbing through peaceful woods, riversides, and Alpine pastures (complete with clanging cowbells) to reach the dangerous heights of a glacier and majestic craggy height, and then descending again through a menacing storm -- was also significant for him as he began a grand trek up a different kind of musical mountain (my translation):
[The work] was not chosen randomly for the program of my first concert at the head of the Orchestre de l'opéra national de Paris: this musical setting of a day spent on high clearly marks the beginning of a voyage. And that was how I felt as we prepared for this concert: a concert of firsts. This grandiose work sums up all of western orchestral art: we could have chosen it as a culmination, but we preferred to make it a beginning, and I am pleased by the audacity and enthusiasm shared by the orchestra.
Jordan's specialty as a conductor, not surprisingly, has been opera, like the highly praised performances of Busoni's Doktor Faust he led in Zurich a couple years ago. We managed to miss his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in January 2009, but Anne Midgette gave him a mixed review in the Washington Post. Surely, this recording of just the Strauss work, made in live performance at Jordan's opening concert at the Bastille (complete with creaks and other sounds, like the oboe soloist gasping for breath), is not going to supplant the best of the many recordings available (Thielemann with the Vienna Philharmonic, Jansons with the Royal Concertgebouw, Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic, Sinopoli with the Dresden Staatskapelle, to name just a few). The orchestra has as a whole a grand, occasionally brash sound, but there are individual and sectional question marks. The Paris reviewer, Renaud Machart, characterized the interpretation quite well when he wrote of Jordan's "expressive reservedness that can leave the listener just at the edge of real emotion," as if when the absence of voices and the operatic drama causes the orchestra to be wholly on its own as the main actor, it leaves Jordan a little flustered. Still, this release is of interest to anyone looking for a snapshot of this orchestra at the beginning of what most critics think will be an important era in its history.

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