CLASSICAL&OPERA: Reviews

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The Independent Culture
Riccardo Chailly conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in an all-Richard Strauss Prom in London's Royal Albert Hall, Tue, 7.30pm

These days, Proms devoted to the music of a single composer are relative rarities, at least when more than a single large-scale opus such as an opera or requiem is involved. Yet here is an old-style, one-composer night which demonstrates the huge resurgence of interest in the music of Richard Strauss. The Austrian has always been considered a brilliant craftsman, a fine composer and, in a handful of works, even a `great' one. Now the pendulum has swung to suggest that throughout a compositional career that spanned more than 60 years, he produced masterpiece after masterpiece.

In his 40s, Strauss switched from orchestral music to opera. The first of these was the Wagnerian Guntram and Tuesday's concert begins with a rare opportunity to hear its Prelude. Four years before Guntram, the 24-year-old Strauss was already writing his third tone poem, Tod und Verklarung (Death and Transfiguration), depicting the demise of an artist and the entrance of his soul into the cosmos. Tod und Verklarung slipped from critical estimation for a time because of the snooty opinion that it was merely a flashy showpiece which failed to convey the deeper spiritual message of its "programme". Yet, to quote an English critic of the time, Arthur Johnstone, describing the eerie idealism theme of the ending: "This is far too well done not to have been sincerely felt."

The all-Strauss evening ends with another masterly score, Don Quixote. This is a fascinating hybrid which, aside from being a tone poem and evocative programme music, also succeeds in constituting an elaborate set of variations. It is shot through with humour and pathos, and brilliantly scored for large orchestra. No doubt Riccardo Chailly with his immaculate-sounding Amsterdam forces will follow Strauss to the letter in what promises to be one of the outstanding Proms of the season.

EYE ON THE NEW

Philip Pickett's Early Music Festival gathers pace at London's South Bank centre this week. Two concerts on Friday examine music from the Royal Courts of Europe. At 7pm, the Tallis scholars return to Elizabethan England for vocal music by Tallis, Taverner, Byrd and others. Then, at 9.30pm, the emphasis switches to Renaissance Spain for dances, battallas and recercadas delivered by the virtuoso recorder ensemble, the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 7pm & 9.30pm.

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