- Richard Strauss - Musical Muralist [Recommended Recordings]
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28 October, 2012
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Richard Strauss
Recommended Recordings

"What I'd like best of all, time and again, would be to set myself to music."

Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan, etc
( Michel Schwalbé; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan)
Herbert von Karajan was a Strauss specialist, and if ever composer and conductor were united in musical philosophy, then these two were. Both favored making a beautiful, creamy, homogenized sound over just about all else, and von Karajan clearly relished the opportunities this music offered for playing that combined both tonal opulence and virtuosity. His Zarathustra (a.k.a. 2001: A Space Odyssey) is, along with Fritz Reiner's, probably among the two or three best performances preserved on disc, and von Karajan is nearly flawless on the other works as well. More good news: DG has given him warm, rich sound that's much better than their Berlin average. An essential Strauss collection. (review by David Hurwitz)

Der Rosenkavalier
(Otto Edelmann, Christa Ludwig, et al; Philharmonia Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, conductor)
An opera that seems to bring the best out of performers, Rosenkavalier inspired these perf ormers to make a recording for the ages. With a superb Ochs and glorious singing from its three leading l adies, and with Herbert von Karajan keeping the Philharmonia on the edge of its seat, this enticing portr ait of love from three angles emerges in all its bittersweet perfection. EMI recorded the opera with sepa rate engineering teams in stereo and mono; this remastering of the stereo version is preferable to the ve ry fine special-issue monaural remastering [EMI Classics 56113] brought out in 1996 as an 80th-birthday tribute to Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. (review by Ted Libbey)

Four Last Songs, etc
(Jessye Norman; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Kurt Masur, conductor)
Jessye Norman has what they call in the operatic business an "ample" figure. Judging from this disc, she must be completely hollow inside because she sings the Four Last Songs in what seems like a single breath, and at half the normal speeds. In fact, as sheer sound, this is the most sensual, voluptuous, totally gorgeous vocal record that I have ever heard. Play it for people who think they hate opera singing and they'll be hooked. Words really can't describe the almost decadent richness of Norman's voice, or the way it seems to swell from the speakers and saturate the room with velvety sound. (review by David Hurwitz)

R. Strauss: Violin Concerto, Violin Sonata
(Sarah Chang, violin; Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor and piano; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Here's a disc for lovers of beautiful violin music. We get two Romantic works from Richard Strauss--his early Violin Concerto (Op. 8) and the Violin Sonata (Op. 18) from five years later--performed by the young Sarah Chang with Wolfgang Sawallisch at the podium (and piano) and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Generation gap aside, these two artists are the perfect collaborators for one another, and they reveal both the calm lyricism and exciting drama at work here. These aren't groundbreaking pieces of music, but they are gorgeous and Chang has seldom sounded better

(Nigel Douglas, Kurt Equiluz, et al; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Georg Solti, conductor)
Soprano Birgit Nilsson would not look right in the role of the kittenish, erotically obsessed teenage princess who does her Dance of the Seven Veils for King Herod and demands the head of John the Baptist in payment. For that, you want to see Catherine Malfitano in the video edition issued by Telarc. But no other soprano on record matches Nilsson's vocal power and control in Salome's cruelly demanding music. The role calls for strong characterization as well as glittering high notes, and in this, too, Nilsson delivers. Sir George Solti's energetic conducting, the Vienna Philharmonic's virtuoso playing, a skilled supporting cast, London's vivid recording and, of course, Strauss's feverish music and the Oscar Wilde libretto make this a larger-than-life experience. (review by Joe McLellan)

Strauss Heroines
(Renee Fleming, Barbara Bonney, Susan Graham; Vienna Philharmonic; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor )
Richard Strauss has few peers when it comes to writing for the female voice, and his operas present a field day for serious artists interested in using vocal beauty to portray richly human characters. Renee Fleming's sensuous intelligence makes her a natural for the "heroines" she brings to life on her new disc, on which she is joined by Barbara Bonney and Susan Graham.

Strauss: Don Quixote; Schumann: Cello Concerto
(Mstislav Rostropovich; Berlin Philharmonic; Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, conducting)
Whenever Karajan and Rostropovich teamed up, great things happened. In 1975, they recorded what many still consider the consummate Don Quixote, a richly characterized, brilliantly played account of what is probably Strauss's best tone poem. Rostropovich's command of the solo part is overwhelming, but even more impressive is the imagination he brings to the reading, in particular his identification with the poignant, crazed side of the old knight's character. The Berliners produce a veritable rainbow of orchestral color behind him, and Karajan, as usual, is firmly in control of pacing and balance. The vivid sound of this new remastering--part of EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" series--and a generous coupling make this a disc to covet. (review by Ted Libbey)

Strauss: Josephs Legende
(Dresden Staatskapelle; Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor)
The music world's undying affection for the music of Richard Strauss--who was incapable of writing a boring piece of music--has given his 1914 ballet score, "Josephs Legende," new currency of late. It's not likely to receive a better representation on CD than in this new recording by Giuseppe Sinopoli and his Staatskapelle Dresden. Strauss's longtime collaborator, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, prompted composition of the work; he conceived of it for performance by Diaghilev's legendary Ballets Russes, with the role of Joseph to be danced by Vaclav Nijinsky (who in the event did not).

Still, nothing in the score sounds like it's later than Stravinsky's truly revolutionary "Rite of Spring," written for the Ballets Russes the year before. In effect, it's another Strauss tone poem, suffused with nineteenth-century musical rhetoric, yet it's compelling. For once Sinopoli plays it straight, and the music pleads its case effectively.

Wind Concertos
(Chicago Symphony; Daniel Barenboim)
Richard Strauss, the avant-garde mastermind behind Also Sprach Zarathustra and Elektra, is shown in a different light on this disc featuring Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Strauss's Wind Concertos were composed at the bookends of the composer's career, but all the pieces on this disc--from the Horn Concerto he wrote for his father to 1945's Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra in D Major--are filled with lyricism. We don't get to hear these Strauss works every day, and Barenboim is a near-perfect interpreter.


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