Richard Strauss' Happy Workshop

This CD is not a new release, in fact it is deleted. The composer does not have an anniversary this year and is not currently featured as BBC Radio 3's composer of the week. The orchestra does not have a big name music director or a teenage soloist and is not about to set out on a major international tour. And this topic is not trending on Twitter. All of which mean it is worth spending a few minutes sharing some quite glorious music with you.

Both of Richard Strauss' Sonatinas for winds are late works. They were written in the closing years of the Second World War and their composition coincided with some of the most terrible events in contemporary history. Despite this both are reflective rather than overtly pessimistic in mood, although the Sonatina No 1, which is scored for sixteen instruments, carries the subtitle 'From an Invalid's Workshop'. The Sonatina No 2, which is more substantial and was published as Symphonie für Bläser (Symphony for Winds), finds Strauss in lighter mood and the title of 'Happy Workshop' reflects its dedication to "the shade of the immortal Mozart at the end of a life full of thankfulness".

The two Sonatinas, with their subconscious references to Capriccio, Der Rosenkavalier and other masterpieces, capture Strauss at his most mercurial without the bombast of some of his larger scale works. Given the popularity of the Oboe Concerto and Metamorphosen, both of which date from the same period, the neglect of the two Sonatinas is a mystery. As I have said, the revelatory Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recording is now deleted, although copies can still be found. There is a Hyperion double CD of Strauss' complete music for winds which includes the two Sonatinas; I have not heard it but am sure it can be recommended. And talking of the Oboe Concerto, which conductor's Strauss did Alex Ross describe as "unsurpassed, perhaps unequaled"?

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Unknown said…
A possible reason for the neglect of the two Sonatinas is that the music is almost unattainable for most ensembles, the cost of renting the materials being prohibitively high.

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