24 JANUARY 1964, Page 18


Dr. Bohm is small, benignly spectacled, convulsive in an amiable way and full of fire. In moments of Straussian stress he hops and makes little leaps, or bends double and waggles the fingers of both hands. Some of his cues looked a bit baffling to me, but evidently most of them made sense to the orchestra. Heldenleben was a degree more exhilarating than I remember ever to have heard it before. This was partly because of breathtaking incident and detail. I still hear Alan Civil lead nine horns (not eight, as specified) into the polyphonic grandeurs that follow the Battle Scene. The trombones are remembered, too; they played with knife-edged precision as well as with splendid ferocity. But a more important factor, perhaps, was Dr. Bohm's tempi. These evolved and interlocked compellingly. There used to be a fashionable word, which merits revival, for performances of this kind. They were called 'architectonic.'

On my way to the Strauss revels, I reflected that four nights later I should be returning for a concert by the Park Lane Group (to mark their one-hundredth programme) at which Norman Del Mar, conducting, was to give London its first hearing of Stravinsky's Eight Instrumental Miniatures. Strauss and Stravinsky were such irreconcilable opposites—and Stravinsky has said such disobliging things about Strauss's music— that they are naturally to be thought of as a pair. As the Philharmonia were tuning up for Heldenleben certain acidulous quotes came back to me. Speaking to Robert Craft of his first 'exposure' to Strauss's tone poems sixty years ago, Stravinsky said the bombast and rodomon- tade of Heldenleben was useful to him 'only as an emetic.'

In reply to this I would urge that those of us who glory in Heldenleben (or most of it; myself I draw the line at the Battle dins and the Beloved's gooey violin solo) find our loyalty entirely compatible with our veneration for Stravinsky's oeuvre from Le Sacre to the Latin Mass, Agon and beyond. If we're right about Stravinsky, can we be all that wrong (as Stravinsky implies) about Strauss?

So much for lielde»leben. Capriccio is a different matter. 'My chief criticism of Capriccio,' Stravinsky has said, 'is that the music chokes me. Strauss does not know when and how to punctuate. His musculature is without measure.' I must say that the closing scene could hardly have been presented more fetchingly. Miss Schwarzkopf wore a mid-eighteenth-century hooped dress, with silver wig and a glitter of jewels. She came on radiant as a girl but, during the longish orchestral prelude, gradually assumed the musing wistfulness which is proper to the scena. All this with superb control and timing. Her voice, silvery and resilient still, is as precisely inflected as when she first sang here in the late nineteen-forties, and there is a new mellowness with little hint of autumn in it. Even so, the score's the thing, or should be. Dating from Strauss's seventy-eighth year, Capriccio ambles and rambles reminiscently. The old modulatory devices are restated and elongated without a particle of the old thematic scent and swagger. By 1942 Strauss had become his own epigone. If any- thing Stravinsky understated the case. Capriccio is one of the world's boneless wonders.

What would Strauss have had to say about Stravinsky's latest? Possibly he would have shrugged, scratched an ear and sought refuge in a game of Skat. The Miniatures (1962) turn out to be a reworking for chamber orchestra (double woodwind and horn plus violins, violas and cellos in pairs) of Les Cinq Doigts, a set of interrelated five-finger studies which Stravinsky wrote in 1921. He used to say in those days that music had become unbearably stuffy; somebody had to break windows and let in fresh air. Les Cinq Doigts are pre-eminently music of and for the 'innocent ear'—an ear which accepts basic tonal material without emotional preconceptions carried over from earlier schools. Perhaps un- wisely I soaked myself in the originals some days before the concert. At first they meant little. By the fourth run-through I had surrendered com- pletely to their combined freshness, directness and ingenuity. Undoubtedly the innocent car of 1921 'worked.' So did the broken windows. Fresh air abounded. This cannot be said Of the Minia- tures, however. Into the original texts Stravinsky has threaded relatively bland counterparts and adroit imitative devices. The innocent car has become sophisticated, almost waggish. There are tinges of Firebird. On second thoughts, Strauss might have approved. He would probably have gone so far as to clap Stravinsky on the back.

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