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CD Review

Richard Strauss

  • Don Juan
  • Ein Heldenleben *
  • Also sprach Zarathustra
  • Don Quixote **
  • Sinfonia Domestica
  • Suite "Le Bourgeois gentilhomme", Op. 60
  • Aus Italien
  • Till Eulenspiegel's lustige Streiche
  • Salome (Complete)
Christel Goltz, soprano (Salome)
Julius Patzak, tenor (Herodes)
Margareta Kenney, mezzo-soprano (Herodias)
Hans Braun, baritone (Jokanaan)
Anton Dermota, tenor (Marraboth)
* Willi Boskovsky, violin
** Ernst Moraweg, viola
** Pierre Fournier, cello
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Clemens Krauss
Decca 4786433 5CDs 6:09:38
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The market for monophonic Strauss is limited by the fact that the music sounds so much better in stereo. Furthermore, historical Strauss doesn't hold the magical – and entirely ridiculous – appeal that historical Mahler does. Part of this has to stem from Strauss' uncomfortable relationship with the Nazis, and part of it has to be that Mahler is just a more interesting figure later in his career, toiling in agony and despair. Strauss on the other hand, hid in the mountains writing neo-classical concertos. It's just not as juicy. Whatever the case, Strauss' anniversary year has led to the obligatory batch of tribute releases, of which this is one of the most significant.

Of course, the "complete" label is just as incorrect as it usually is; these are not his complete Decca recordings of Strauss. The others are currently sitting around on Dutton, and why they aren't here is a mystery to critics including myself. I thank Mr. David Hurwitz for pointing this out, he is correct in saying that these is literally no reason they are not in this box, with Death and Transfiguration perhaps the most serious omission. Aside from that irritation, these recordings have been awfully hard to find, popping up on Testament to general acclaim, but with Salome truncated to a bunch of excerpts. Again, this was a puzzlement, as that too seemingly was for no reason. So while this set – very reasonably priced and utterly essential to Strauss fans – has its issues, the inclusion of the complete opera is indeed cause for celebration.

The entire box features the post-war Vienna Philharmonic in very good shape, all things considered. Solo work is outstanding, with special praise going to Boskovsky and Fournier, The latter recorded Don Quixote in a classic stereo account with Karajan, relegating this earlier take to something of a specialist item. Conversely, the bigger tone poems are conducted with a unique authority. I really like the dynamic contrasts throughout, and the Philharmonic does manage to rise to the occasion and produce some genuinely exciting results. While Krauss' accounts have ultimately been superseded on a technical and sonic level, few can argue that artistically, collectors will hear things that are very compelling.

And so we find a Till that is jaunty and playful, far from the dreary Dudamel on Deutsche Grammophon, and a Zarathustra that's remarkably effective despite limited dynamic range. Sure, that opening fanfare is less imposing in mono, but how clearly Krauss keeps the music pushing forward from there. That complete Salome is a winner too, despite Goltz being a love-her-or-hate-her kind of lead. To my ears, she's not bad, and since I've not heard her other efforts, I'm not in a position to say if she ever did better. Krauss was a frequent partner with Strauss in the opera house, and the conducting leaves very little to be desired. I'm very happy Decca decided to issue it complete. All in all, despite occasionally scrappy playing and the inexplicable omissions within the project, these discs have never been more easily obtained or affordable. If you love Strauss, you need this.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman