Richard Strauss’s Sinfonia Domestica has had a bad press, its gargantuan portrait of a day in the composer’s family life, his shrewish wife and their toddler Franz, dismissed as crass and philistine. Listen to it as absolute music and the rewards are great – certainly if it’s played as gloriously as this.
I doubt if there’s currently a better Strauss conductor in the world than Andris Nelsons. He handled the huge forces dexterously and elegantly: strings swooned erotically and the scherzo elements fizzed and rollicked.
Nelsons treated it not just as a sonic spectacular, although the CBSO’s performance certainly was spectacular, but revealed this much-maligned work’s warmth and humanity. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream overture, however, the contrast between the magical and mundane worlds was minimized. Mendelssohn’s fairies had been sent to the gym for a work-out – muscular, pumped up but not too light on their feet.
The Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen’s dramatic monologue for Shakespeare’s Ophelia Let me tell you, receiving its UK premiere, was a triumph for soprano Barbara Hannigan. Paul Griffiths ingeniously used only the 481-word vocabulary Ophelia has in Hamlet as the text for the work’s three sections.
It opened impressively: a magical atmosphere conjured up by high-lying woodwind and celesta, with Hannigan emerging in the vocal stratosphere and never sounding ugly even when required to sing in a strange ululating style.