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Clemens Krauss
Richard WAGNER
Tristan und Isolde (1865) Preludea [10’30]; Parsifal (1882) Karfreitagszaubera [12’37].
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Tod und Verklärungb (1889) [24’04]; Metamorphosenc (1945) [27’24].
abLondon Philharmonic Orchestra, cBamberger Symphoniker/Clemens Krauss.
From aDecca LLP14, bAK1892-4.  Rec. London, aJanuary 1949, b1947, cJanuary 21st, 1953. ADD mono

One hardly needs to be reminded of the credentials of Clemens Krauss in Strauss and Wagner. Yet when one encounters Strauss playing such as this, it never fails to be revelatory.

But first the Wagner. The Tristan Prelude is wonderful even if it is shorn of the orchestral Verklärung that accompanied it originally. There exists a contemporaneous (1948) version from Cuba by this conductor (with the Havana Philharmonic) that I have yet to hear. With the LPO in fine form, though, and given a clear recording, excellently transferred to retain the depth, this remains a memorable version. The speed is flowing but not too fast by any standard. Perhaps only the closely-recorded trumpet at the climax - playing the semitonal ascent from the initial germinal figure - stands out as unsubtle.

The reverential ‘Karfreitagszauber’ music from Parsifal boasts a gorgeous solo oboe (around 4’20 and following) and, overall, exudes spiritual peace. Suspensions positively ache here, and if the passage around 7’39 is not quite the Goodallian blossoming it was under Reggie’s tremulous hands, it retains its magic. Running through both Wagner performances is Krauss’s great control of his forces.

But the Strauss moves upwards to another plane; literally, it could be argued, in the case of Tod und Verklärung. Krauss’s is a beautifully shaped, heart-rending account. The musical ‘flutterings’ of the heart-beat for once do not sound in the least contrived; and just listen to the meltingly beautiful woodwind solos - especially the oboe at around 2’40. The whole experience is magnificently concentrated, right from the opening crepuscular grumblings to the glowing close. This is great conducting.

Moving to the Bamberger Symphoniker from the LPO is not the great leap it might be nowadays. The orchestra plays superbly for Kraus in the moving masterpiece Metamorphosen, even if the Bambergers may not have the depth of sound of certain other more prestigious ensembles. It is a shame the strings do not glow more, yet there is plenty of spirit here.

Transfers are very good, but there is some glare on upper strings. Not enough, though, to prevent investigation of these important documents.

Of the works on this disc, it is Krauss’s Tod und Verklärung that is truly outstanding. For the rest, there is plenty to enjoy. A fascinating reminder of a great conductor.

Colin Clarke


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