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The Buffalo Philharmonic records orchestral suites by Richard Strauss

April 12, 2016

Sue Schuman getting ready to play the harmonium part in the Ariadne auf Naxos suite

One of Richard Strauss’ most original and unusual projects was the creation of an opulent production that began with Molière’s seventeenth-century comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and ended with the sumptuous opera Ariadne auf Naxos. The idea for the extraordinary evening was jointly conceived by Strauss and Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, the composer’s friend and librettist. Fresh from the triumph of Strauss’ opera Der Rosenkavalier, the dynamic creative team presented a now legendary performance in Stuttgart in October of 1912.

Robert Marler played the virtuoso piano part in the Ariadne auf Naxos suite

Strauss surrounded Molière’s classic play with incidental music inspired by a composer of the author’s own lifetime—Jean-Baptiste Lully—but he transformed its Baroque roots into luscious music of romantic fantasy and Straussian luxury. The opera at the end was a quirky and delightful “contest”—a battle between the appeal of “high art” (opera) and “low art” (vaudeville). The evening is set in a grand palace in Vienna, where both an opera company and a burlesque troop are preparing to entertain the guests after a lavish banquet. The artists are informed by the butler that the dinner is running late, and since the fireworks display must begin promptly at 9 pm, there will not be time for performances by both groups. He instructs them to “combine” and perform at the same time, melding their presentations into one production.

Concertmaster Dennis Kim working with members of the Buffalo Philharmonic’s string section

Thus Ariadne auf Naxos became a comedy in which the opera soprano mournfully laments the loss of her beloved Jason, while she is exhorted by the saucy burlesque star to just get over him and find a new boyfriend. High and low art co-exist in this hilarious libretto, greatly enhanced by music of consummate beauty.

Though the production must have been extraordinary, it lasted over six hours, which even for the music-obsessed Stuttgarters was too long. Henceforth, the play and opera were separated.

The Buffalo Philharmonic’s woodwind section getting ready to record

The compilation of suites from both pieces provided the opportunity for the Buffalo Philharmonic to recombine Gentilhomme and Ariadne on one CD. Strauss himself created the suite for the former; and in 2014 Wilson Ochoa (principal librarian of the Boston Symphony) produced the first symphonic suite ever extracted from Ariadne auf Naxos, gifting the instruments of the orchestra with the soaring lines originally written for the singers.

Producer Tim Handley working with arranger Wilson Ochoa, who extracted the suite from the opera

The performances on this new recording are conducted by JoAnn Falletta, the orchestra’s music director. “We left the studio almost dizzy with the joy of playing music of incomparable loveliness, studded throughout with gorgeous instrumental solos,” she said. “We hope that our 75-minute recording will transport the listener to the wonder of that original production.”

JoAnn Falletta Biography & Discography

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Background & Discography

Richard Strauss Biography & Discography


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