I can’t think of any piece that epitomizes post romanticism in music more effectively than “An Alpine Symphony (Eine Alpensinfonie),” by Richard Strauss (1864-1949), which he completed in 1915. In terms of descriptive detail and expressive power, it’s as if everything possible with an orchestra was manifested in this work.
As a music monument to his beloved mountains, this symphony depicts the ascent and descent of a mountain in instrumental terms, beginning just before sunrise and ending just after sunset, roughly 12 hours later. It’s an understatement to say that this final tone poem from Strauss is an effective “nature painting” and a magnificent piece. In fact, it is one of my favorites.
I just finished watching a DVD performance of it by the Deutsches-Sinfonie Orchester Berlin, conducted by Kent Nagano (1951-) and filmed during 2006 at the Berlin Philharmonie. This disc is another installment in the “Kent Nagano Conducts Classical Masterpieces,” series, under the Arthaus Musik label.
In addition to the performance, a documentary with animated sequences is also included. The main benefit of this documentary is hearing Maestro Nagano’s thoughts on the piece, along with the impressions of some of the orchestral players. Unfortunately, these features are superimposed over recorded portions of the work, thereby causing the viewer to hear it twice. I would have preferred more background footage pertaining directly to the piece. Nevertheless, this bonus feature is well worth watching, and there is some rehearsal footage included.
For the most part, I was quite impressed by the performance, with its attention to the myriad details without losing the grand picture. However, I also feel that the hypothetical “ideal” performance of it probably exists in my imagination. This is particularly true with regard to the sound engineering, not to mention the camera work. There’s so much going on instrumentally that a special “split screen” technique (which I’ve yet to encounter on orchestral DVDs) is probably necessary.
Still, I was moved by this performance and I can recommend it, with the caveat that anyone watching it should also watch other performances of it as well. The piece is too large to limit it to one point of view. This one is special!