Today's Classical Music Video

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sinopoli Conducts the Alpine Symphony

Who was the greater composer, Beethoven or Richard Strauss? Probably no doubt about the answer. However, if we asked instead who wrote greater storm music I think the answer would be different. The storm music in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony surely pales beside the comparable episode in Strauss' An Alpine Symphony. Of course, Strauss had many more instruments available to him including a vast array of percussion. Don't forget, by the way, that Berlioz and Rossini and Britten, among others, wrote some pretty impressive storm music too.

Eine Alpensinfonie Op. 64 was for a long time considered a minor work of Strauss and was a rarity on concert programmes. Now it seems to turn up nearly every season. I think it is a glorious piece, even profound if taken in its metaphorical sense as life's journey rather than as a climb up and down a mountain.

This performance by the Staatskapelle Dresden is glorious too and documents some of the work of the late Giuseppe Sinopoli (1946-2001). He was a remarkable man who expertise in many fields. He studied composition with Stockhausen, he was a medical doctor and wrote a dissertation on criminal anthropology. He had a prized collection of ceramics from ancient Greece. As a conductor he was known for his highly personal interpretations. He died of a heart attack while conducting Verdi's opera Aida.

In this video Sinopoli clearly has his head in the score much of the time. But make no mistake about it. He knew exactly what he wanted to hear. Norman Lebrecht is on record as considering Sinopoli a bit of a charlatan, but his work suggests otherwise.

An Alpine Symphony calls for a huge orchestra with lots of extra brass including 12 horns, 2 trumpets and 2 trombones offstage. You will also hear (and see) a wind machine and a thunder machine, and at the end you will hear (but not see) an organ.

Paul E. Robinson

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