The hero in Richard Strauss’s tone poem Ein Heldenleben is the composer – but how he is portrayed depends significantly on the conductor and players involved.
This was a young man’s interpretation and rightly so, for Strauss was only 33 when he composed the work, the age conductor Andris Nelsons will reach this year.
I have heard performances where the musical hero is paunchy, middle-aged and a little pompous or views his life with an Olympian detachment.
Nelsons’ hero strode in with a glint in his eye, a spring in his step and was always in the thick of the action.
The various episodes were vividly characterised. The woodwind whined and bickered as the hero’s critics, and orchestra leader Laurence Jackson gave us a beautifully played portrait of the hero’s wife – voluble yet vulnerable and tender.
Nelsons also wrung every ounce of drama from Beethoven’s Egmont overture before he and the CBSO provided admirable support for soloist Gautier Capuçon in Shostakovich’s first cello concerto.
Capuçon’s bright tone and dextrous playing suited the febrile first movement and skittering cadenza but he darkened and mellowed his playing very effectively in the moderato movement.
The important horn part was finely played by Elspeth Dutch.
Rating * * * * *