BBC Music Magazine

Debussy • Ligeti R Strauss


R Strauss: Schlagober­s Suite; Debussy: Jeux – Poème dansé; Ligeti: Melodien for orchestra Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Jonathan Nott

Pentatone PTC 5186 721 (hybrid CD/ SACD) 72:35 mins

What possible connection is there between the three works on this, Jonathan Nott’s first recording as music director of the top Swiss orchestra? The steady deconstruc­tion of the dance, perhaps? A tortuous liner note doesn’t clarify; perhaps Nott himself could have told us more. But let the trio stand as a rare slice of enterprise.

Strauss’s bizarre 1921 ballet set in a Viennese Konditorei – ‘Schlagober­s’ means ‘whipped cream’ – has only had two complete recordings: Neeme Järvi tackled a slightly more extensive suite than the one recorded here, and Rudolf Kempe made a case for the waltz as voluptuous middle-european showcase. Though the Suisse Romande violins occasional­ly sound wiry, the textures here are bewitching­ly strange: the sequence of dancing tea-blossoms and coffee is more opium dream than sharp Nutcracker-style fantasy. There’s some Rosenkaval­ier-style neoclassic­ism, too, alongside a noisier vein, with bright high frequencie­s provided by splendid playing from the f lutes and piccolo.

Debussy’s ballet for Diaghilev is, curious to say, clearer in its dance contours than the Strauss; as in the same team’s bewitching BBC Proms performanc­e, there’s more glistening clarity than I’ve previously heard in this baffling score, though the sphinx keeps her secret and the final dissolve is magical. That wood-at-dusk haze splinters into a thousand fireflies in Ligeti’s Melodien of 1971, where lines and phrases eventually emerge on the typically unpredicta­ble journey.

A more resonant acoustic might have helped in this programme, but there’s no doubt that Nott is in command of the Swiss players, who by all accounts like him a lot.

David Nice



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