Petrenko and Oslo Phil record Strauss’ tone poems

© Alexander Light Photography

Vasily Petrenko with the Oslo Philharmonic in Oslo Concert Hall.

Oslo Philharmonic with chief conductor Vasily Petrenko recently recorded Richard Strauss’ tone poems Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben – the first in a planned series on label Lawo.

Oslo Philharmonic played Strauss’ perhaps most famous work – Also sprach Zarathustra – in two concerts in Oslo in the beginning of November. According to one critic, Petrenko “summoned vast worlds into being, holding them in magisterial wonder for our contemplation, before sending them spinning into the cosmos with a flick of the wrist.”

Now the music is preserved for future release on the Lawo Classics, together with another recently performed work: Ein Heldenleben.

– I’ve always liked playing Strauss, his music is a pinnacle of writing for orchestra, and it’s so imaginative, Vasily Petrenko says.

– He famously said that he could describe in music how he took the fork from the left side of the plate and placed it on the right side. But he was also able to raise important questions, like in Zarathustra, about the essence of human life.

– Very challenging

Petrenko readily admits conducting Strauss is a tough job:

– All of Strauss’ tone poems are very challenging for the conductor. You have to manage a lot of details in the rehearsals, and in performance you have to manage the tempo shifts and the changes in colour, but most importantly you have to generate a lot of emotions and help the orchestra to show their vision of such great music.

The musicians of the orchestra are similarly tested:

– There are a lot of challenges to deal with for the orchestra as well. Strauss was trying to push the boundaries for the players further and further. There’s a lot of notes, a lot of loud or very quiet music and a lot of solos. Almost all the musicians have something to play individually, often very audible. It’s a big challenge to maintain the level of attention and expression for such a long time.

– He was always aiming for beauty

While interpreting and carrying out the composer’s intentions is hard work, the results are correspondingly rewarding:

– Strauss was a demanding man and a demanding composer, but he always was aiming for beauty.

Petrenko hopes this recording will be the first in a complete version of Strauss’ tone poems on Lawo Classics, including other classics like Don Juan and An Alpine Symphony:

– The Oslo Philharmonic is a fantastic band with a long tradition of playing Richard Strauss’ music. However, such a cycle hasn’t yet been recorded by the orchestra. This project also gives the individuals of the orchestra a possibility to shine, not just in concert, but in a recording.