My love for Richard Strauss is well-documented in these parts. I’m on record somewhere sometime in saying that he composed with the greatest ease of anyone who ever lived – more than even Mozart, the most common answer given when the “who’s the most naturally gifted?” question arises. Strauss has an innate ability to make music sound absolutely bad ass that towers over everyone around him, and while this is not necessarily to suggest that it means he is the greatest composer or the most meaningful or the composer we’ll turn to in our darkest hours for solace or whatever the fuck else we laud Beethoven and Bach for, we’ve gotta take Strauss for who he was, and that’s someone so unimaginably skilled that it literally and truly boggles the mind.
Some of my very favorite works in Strauss’ output are the ones that occupy the hidden nooks and crannies lurking in the shadows of the obscurative tone poems and operas, works like the Serenade for Winds, the Cello Sonata, and the Deutsche Motette which show off his melodic gifts and mastery of texture in fitter and trimmer detail than the epic orchestral scores he is most noted for. Included among these hidden gems are the many occasional pieces he wrote, some of which are absolutely delightful ways to spend a dozen minutes or less. The best of these tend to be the ones that are associated with Vienna and its orchestra, no surprise considering Strauss’ relationship to the (presumably) most-famous orchestra in the world, and the best of THOSE is without question the Festliches Präludium, op. 61.
Written in 1913 for the opening of the Vienna Concert House, Festliches Präludium is a 12-minute orgasm of majesty and triumph, with raucous organ, jet-powered brass, a Roman Empire of strings and winds, all that shit! There is a strong connection between this work and the Alpine Symphony, which was being written at the same time – one gets the distinct impression that climbing a beautiful mountain is roughly the same as walking through the door of a new concert hall. Listen especially to the first great climax of the Festliches Präludium, which could not have more in common with the “On the summit” bit from Alpine than if the conductor were instructed to whip out a piton and plant a flag in the second violins.
This performance is courtesy of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and maestro Michalis Economou, all of whom perform with the kind of balls-out nuclear bomb filled with nachos approach that this type of music deserves. Crank that shit up and revel in the blast radius of processed cheese food product and Straussian Fucking Awesomeness.