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CD Review

Richard Strauss

The Complete Analogue Recordings

  • An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64 2,a
  • Concerto for Oboe & Small Orchestra in D Major 4,a
  • Salome, Op. 54 (Dance of the Seven Veils) a,b,c
  • Concerto for Horn & Orchestra #2 in E Flat Major 3,a
  • Don Juan, Op. 20 a,b,c
  • Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 5,a
  • Metamorphosen a
  • Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 a,c
  • Don Quixote, Op. 35 5,6,7,a
  • Till Eulenspiegel's lustige Streiche, Op. 28 a,c
  • Four Last Songs 1,a
  • Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59 c
  • Lisa Della Casa (Princess Werdenberg)
  • Sena Jurinac (Octavian)
  • Hilde Güden (Sophie)
  • Otto Edelmann (Baron Ochs)
  • Vienna State Opera Chorus
1 Gundula Janowitz, soprano
2 David Bell, organ
3 Norbert Hauptmann, horn
4 Lothar Koch, oboe
5 Michel Schwalbé, violin
6 Giusto Cappone, viola
7 Pierre Fournier, cello
a Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
b Concertgebouw Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
c Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Deutsche Grammophon 4792686 Limited Edition 11CDs + Blu-ray
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from Find it at JPC

In my review of Deutsche Grammophon 4786433, I noted that while those digital recordings all have something very special to offer, these are the more famous ones, and upon these Karajan created his legacy as a Strauss conductor. This lavish, LP-sized box is simply a treasure trove of remembrances, photographs, and world-class performances. The famous Decca/Vienna Philharmonic disc of tone poems is here, along with early recordings from the Concertgebouw and a live 1960 Der Rosenkavalier. Also present is the digital Alpine Symphony featured in the digital box (which also duplicates the two concertos).

While the aforementioned Vienna album gained fame from being featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey, sonically and technically it is superseded by any of Karajan's Berlin efforts. Not that it's bad, quite the opposite in fact, but the Vienna Philharmonic simply wasn't in the best form when these were set down. The organ (recorded in a local chapel and secretly tuned to match the unique tuning of the Philharmonic) sounds especially artificial today, and the bell sounds are similarly bizarre. Still, there are insights here (as well as in the Concertgebouw takes of Don Juan and the Dance from Salome) that clearly show the master conductor in his element. Whether you need three Don Juans and three Dance of the Seven Veils within one box is entirely a matter of taste, but they are all very interesting in their own way.

The early Berlin readings of Ein Heldenleben and Don Quixote are arguably the conductor's best, while the other tone poems are indisputable classics that belong in every collection. Newly re-mastered, everything sounds terrific. I didn't sample the Blu-ray, but it holds the contents from the first six discs and undoubtedly will interest the audiophile in your home (or maybe that's you anyways). The Four Last Songs with Janowitz rank among the most beautiful ever, while that digital Alpine Symphony has come a long way since its full-priced and bad-sounding issue at the start of the CD age.

The complete Der Rosenkavalier comes to us from Salzburg, 1960 and is in reasonably good sound with an excellent cast. I wanted this limited edition for the orchestral stuff, and the live opera seems a touch out of place with so much excellent studio material on display. I also don't understand why Karajan's Vienna Death and Transfiguration isn't here. It's shown in the booklet on the original LP cover, and yes, given the "original jacket" concept, this would have required another disc. It's a pretty big omission (and the same happened to Krauss' box, so maybe somebody at Universal simply hates the work). But all and all, this is a beautiful project that gives you all of Karajan's Strauss you'll ever need. And if not, there's always that digital box!

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman