This two-CD set from French RCA includes some particularly interesting performances. Reiner is of course one of the great Strauss conductors, and this is confirmed by his three performances, which are particularly well directed and paced. However, the 1950 recording of Death and Transfiguration with RCA's own orchestra cannot pass muster as far as sound quality is concerned, The climaxes are congested and the string sound lacks so much bloom that listening is not exactly a pleasant experience. This is a pity, but there are plenty of better options if this piece is your special target.
That said, the remainder of the compilation is much more compelling. Reiner's Zarathustra has appeared in many guises, but never sounding better than here. The recording quality scarcely reveals that it only came four years after the Death and Transfiguration; only the relative lack of impact from the timpani during the great initial crescendo reveals that the recording was made nearly fifty years ago. All credit to the RCA engineers for their achievement in remastering the original; the climaxes are rich and strong, but the quieter music comes over both nearly and with great clarity and balance too.
Reiner's grip on the music is second to none, as it is also in his splendid performance of Ein Heldenleben. The pacing of the whole work, developing the music's tensions and maintaining intensity acrss the whole extended span, is nothing short of masterly. The playing of the Chicago orchestra is top class, and the performance has sensitivity, pathos, bombast and swagger according to the score's demands. These two performances are extraordinarily fine and worth the price of the discs themselves.
But there is also the set of recordings by Eugen Jochum with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. He is not so much noted as a Strauss conductor, but there are dangers in assuming that all conductors manage to record all the music that they perform well. And there is no question that Jochum knows what to do with Strauss. Compared with Reiner, he tends to dell over slower lyrical music and consequently risks losing tension, but the atmospheric and vivid recorded sound accommodates these indulgences. Till Eulenspiegel proves an indulgent hero (or antihero) to be sure, but he remains entirely lovable.
Don Juan sweeps along heroically, though the Bamberg horns are no match for those of the Vienna or Berlin Philharmonics when the work's great climax arrives. But the poetic music more than compensates. However, the real highlight among Jochum's performances comes in the form of the waltz sequences from Der Rosenkavalier, which have a splendid sweep and a rich and colourful orchestral sound.
As with other issues in this series, the accompanying documentation
is poor. It is thin on information and difficult to read because of
the small print against a multi-coloured background.