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CD Review

Richard Strauss

DG Concerts 2005/2006

  • Don Juan, Op. 20
  • Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24
  • Dance of the Seven Veils from "Salome", Op. 54
  • Suite "Der Rosenkavalier", Op. 59
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
Deutsche Grammophon 4776435
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Never the most thrilling of beasts, the late Lorin Maazel here proves even he could have fun. Always a reliable – if unspectacular – choice in this music, he has his former charges at the New York Philharmonic in excellent form. Don Juan starts things very promisingly; the playing is exemplary, and the interpretation is mostly exciting. Maazel naturally has the measure of the piece structurally, but much more impressive is the fact that he weds his customary clarity with genuine thrills. Like Pierre Boulez, Maazel had a reputation for a total lack of sentimentality and both a personal and musical coolness. But also like Boulez, Maazel responded very well to music with color (Boulez had Ravel, Maazel had Respighi and Strauss) and worked well in New York.

Death and Transfiguration features some absolutely staggering playing from the New Yorkers, and a fine interpretation from Maazel. While you wouldn't think emotional coolness would pay off in Strauss, here it does because the attention to detail and command of the orchestra is so compelling. The fabled podium technique of the conductor manifests itself in some hair-raising climaxes and unerring commitment in every bar. Balances are admirable, and while Maazel is still no Karajan, he's at the top of his game here.

In the final two works, Maazel simply lets go for the dance from Salome, and the end result is a great deal more fun than we generally expect from this pairing. The same goes for the Der Rosenkavalier suite, which finds these forces unexpectedly lighthearted and elegant. Late Maazel was not especially known for grace, yet the concert ends on a lovely note. There are better Strauss discs out there, but few show the Maazel/New York partnership off so successfully. As one of the few "DG Concerts" released as a physical disc, this program is much more than a memento.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman