Richard Strauss’s original working title for the work was “My home. A symphonic portrait of myself and my family” and was intended as a homely sequel to Ein Heldenleben (1898). Instead of the hero’s struggle for supremacy, Symphonia presents a portrait of a family, with the husband, wife and child each characterised by themes.
Family and home as the theme of a symphony? The musical aspect of subjects such as visiting relatives, children’s play, lullabies, a love scene and an argument between spouses most certainly did not correspond to the themes that were usually combined with absolute music. All the commotion around it was silenced by Strauss’s famous remark, “I do not see why I should not make a symphony about myself. I consider myself just as interesting as Napoleon and Alexander”.
One fascinating feature of Symphonia is based on another contradiction, which Strauss manages to solve here in a brilliant manner. The intimate family situation is paired with a huge orchestral force. He makes use of the full orchestra when required; however, when the piece turns into an intimate dialogue, he portrays it masterfully.
For all the popularity of many of Richard Strauss’s tone poems, Symphonia isn’t recorded all that often and, arguably, it is even less frequently performed in concert. This luminous recording of Symphonia Domestica tells us what we are in for: an excellent recording with plenty of inner details, Marek Janowski’s straightforward conducting and Rundfunk Synfonie-Berlin orchestra’s zesty performance. PENTATONE’s sound is remarkably warm and clear, vividly illustrating the magnetism of a day in the life of Strauss, his wife Pauline and their child Bubi.
Die Tageszeiten for male choir and orchestra was commissioned in 1927 by the Wiener Schubertbund (the Vienna Schubert Choral Society), who also performed the première of the piece under conductor Viktor Keldorfer on 21 July 1928 in Vienna during the Deutsche Sängerbundesfest (German Choral Society Festival). Here, Strauss set poems by Eichendorff to music in four romantic scenes: Der Morgen (‘morning’), Mittagsruh (‘afternoon rest’), Der Abend (‘evening’) and Die Nacht (‘night’). The pieces have also been described as the Four Last Songs for Choir, thus theoretically referring - in Die Nacht, with its birdsong imitated by flute and clarinet - to Im Abendrot (‘at sunset’) from the Vier Letzte Lieder (‘the Four Last Songs’). The choral settings have a captivating harmonic luminosity, melodic simplicity, instrumental finesse, and an almost unheard-of sonic serenity. “[Here] choir and orchestra [are] brought to a perfect balance [...] both partners share the invocation of the idyllic and the dark sides of romantic nature.” (Eichner).
Such a gem of a recording is a must have for any serious Strauss lover!