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CD Review

Richard Strauss

  • Sinfonia domestica, Op. 53 *
  • Macbeth, Op. 23
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
Deutsche Grammophon 4793773 63:38 *Live
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The late Lorin Maazel was renowned as one of the most talented baton wielders of the century, but he was never known for his playfulness or charm. That's what made his razor-sharp yet swaggering Gershwin on Decca so much fun, and that's what makes this Strauss album so great, too. The Vienna Philharmonic plays magnificently, but also with lightness and grace that suits the Sinfonia domestica very well. When needed, Maazel turns up the heat, and the Vienna players respond with confidence. I haven't heard the conductor's RCA recording of these works, and I don't intend to. As noted critic David Hurwitz points out in his own review for Classics Today and ArkivMusic, Maazel did indeed record these works over and over, but there's no reason to go comparing one man's versions of the Sinfonia. Life is just too short. Also, this is a live recording, and the sound leaves something to be desired. I like Kempe and Reiner for this work, but only the latter can generally be found on a single disc. Szell's is fine, but often out of print.

In Macbeth, we find an often thrilling but uneven tone poem that doesn't impress as consistently as say, Don Juan. Most tone poems don't, though, and this red-hot and committed performance is the best I've heard. The sound is noticeably better here, allowing the brass of the Vienna Philharmonic to really ring out. This orchestra is rarely the most unbuttoned, and its not like Maazel made his reputation on going crazy, either. If his Mahler had been half this interesting…well, he would have been known for his Mahler. As it stands, the quality of the music making here is unquestionable, and stands as a fine achievement in Maazel's vast and somewhat disappointing career on disc.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman