Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30a. Horn Concerto No. 2 in E flat, AV132b. Vier letzte Lieder, Op. Posthc. Don Juan, Op. 20d. Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28d. Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40a.
 bNorbert Hauptmann (horn); cGundula Janowitz (soprano); Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/abcHerbert von Karajan, dKarl Böhm.
DG Panorama 469 208-2 [two discs] [156'09] [ADD]

The star performance of this Panorama twofer is that of the Four Last Songs. Gundula Janowitz is in full, resplendent voice and Karajan captures perfectly the autumnal, quasi-valedictory quality. The peaceful glow of the fourth song, Im Abendrot, is entirely fitting here. Although I would not willingly forfeit either Schwarzkopf or Jessye Norman for Janowitz, the music still comes over as an immensely moving experience.

The 'Karajan splodge' does not seem overdone in this Straussian farewell, whereas it can be intrusive in the Zarathustra of the same vintage. The violin swoops of the Introduction or the Grablied now sound identifiably vintage Karajan, and come as part of the package. Similarly, you could bathe in Von der Hinterweltern. There are distinct advantages to this approach too, though: the climax of Tanzlied is positively orgiastic, and Karajan's sheer control of the orchestra in the concluding Nachwandlerlied remains breathtaking to this day.

Hauptmann's Second Horn Concerto is technically secure, although he misses (or has been asked to miss?) the bravura elements in this score. Perhaps this time the autumnal effect is somewhat overdone, although the slightly muddy recording does not help.

Karl Böhm's Strauss is painted in bold and confident colours. Even though his early sixties recording of Don Juan shows its age, there is a master's understanding of idiom at work here and a surprising amount of detail comes through. His characterful Till Eulenspiegel is a delight. This is a notoriously difficult score to bring off successfully and Böhm comes far closer than most, without displacing Kempe's reference recording.

There is much to recommend in Karajan's 1959 Heldenleben. The opening pedal note emerges from the depths and sets the monumental tone of the reading. The recording belies its age (listen to the harp glissandi in The Hero's Companion). Unfortunately The Hero's Works of Peace fails to achieve the requisite sense of repose to contrast with the Battle Scene, and this seems to affect the final Retreat from the World also.

As an introduction to the orchestral works of Strauss, this set will fulfil its function well. It is also fitting as a monument to what Karajan achieved in Berlin, whether or not one agrees with his philosophies.


Colin Clarke

( Four Last Songs and Till Eulenspiegel)


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