Sublime new recording of Strauss' best

Jan Latham-Koenig and Joan Rodgers deliver a skilful and soulful performance of Don Juan and Metamorophosen

Title: Strauss from Strasbourg
  Don Juan; Metamorphosen; Songs for soprano and piano
Artists: Joan Rodgers (sop); Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/Jan Latham-Koenig (cond/pf)
Rating:  5/5
Genre: Orchestral/Vocal
Label: AVIE AV 2172

The Music: Don Juan was Strauss’s first masterpiece, while the darkly beautiful Metamorphosen for strings, written 60 years later, was one of his last. In between comes a group of the voice-and-piano songs that Strauss composed throughout his long life.

The Performance: Don Juan has been played and recorded so often that it might seem impossible to conjure the music into sounding as fresh as the day it was written. Yet it happens here, with a conductor-and-orchestra team that delivers sweeping panache, needlepoint precision, and vividly characterised solo playing (superb horns!). In the brooding, autumnal Metamorphosen, the quality of the Strasbourg string-playing is if anything even higher. And the songs show how Latham-Koenig’s skills as a pianist superbly match those of his conducting, while Joan Rodgers’s singing combines classy control with soulful emotion.

The Verdict: One for pundit and punter alike: Strauss buffs will savour the quality, while the choice of music offers an ideal introduction to the composer.

Why You’ll Love This

•    Heroic horns
The final lap of Don Juan’s randy romantic progress is summoned by the orchestra’s four horns, playing a new theme to proclaim the disillusioned hero’s restored self-belief. It’s a great moment, delivered here in thrilling style.

•    Romantic Dream
The last of the songs here is ‘Morgen’ (Tomorrow), a rapturously imagined love scene, conjured by Strauss with a magical minimum of notes. Joan Rodgers handles its slow phrases with the loveliest poise and control.

•    In Memoriam
Strauss wrote these words above the final bars of Metamorphosen where, in a moment superbly captured by the Strasbourg strings, the cellos and basses play the ‘funeral march’ theme of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’, Symphony No.3