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Harold Moores

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Also Sprach Zarathustra (1896)
Ein Heldenleben (1898-9)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago in March 1954
SCAD Surround SACD Stereo and CD Audio
BMG RCA 82876 61389 2 [75:40]

These classic performances have been re-re-re-re reissued time and again over the years to mark practically every step along the road of advancing audio technology. Not surprisingly, because the original sound, captured in early RCA Living Stereo, is so splendid each incarnation seems to reveal yet more riches. The performances, too, are very, very impressive. Fritz Reiner had worked with Strauss in Germany and had built up a formidable reputation as an interpreter of his music. Furthermore, performances of Richard Strauss had been one of the glories of the Chicago Symphony who had given the American premieres of Zarathustra (1897) Don Quixote (1899) and Heldenleben (1900).

We have listened to this new SACD disc on our Bang and Olufsen system: BeoSound 3000 player with four Beolab 6000 amplifier/speakers (believe me, not just pretty faces) and Beolab 2 woofer. Ian freely admits that he did not fully comprehend the booklet’s technical notes and was baffled by the assertion that "in SACD surround mode the music will be heard only from the front left and right channels." Nevertheless, he and Grace thought the result was quite mind-blowing.

Zarathustra’s spectacular ‘Sunrise’ opening with its floor-shaking organ pedal and those exciting timpani hammerstrokes and thrilling trumpet and brass proclamations reach right out at you. The sweet voluptuous musings and rising passions ‘Of the people of the unseen world’ sweep across and engulf the sound stage and the unbridled ‘Of the great longing’ and ‘Of joys and passions’ also thrill and tingle.

Passing on to Ein Heldenleben, the sound was equally riveting. Take, for instance ‘The hero’s battlefield’. Here the spatial effects are most convincing – the approaching bugle calls, the cantering, then charging cavalry and the booming guns (floor-shuddering bass drum thunders) envelop the listener. Also beautifully spatially engineered, is the hauntingly lovely string passage at the climax of ‘The hero’s retreat from the world and fulfilment’.

It is amazing to remember that this music was recorded as long ago as 1954. Every instrument is glowingly captured. Yes, one might argue that the odd trumpet call, for instance, is shrill and thin but that is the exception. Listen, for instance, to the silky sheen of the strings and the warmth of the violin solos and the clarity of the carping woodwinds in Heldenleben’s adversaries’ music.

Even if you have this classic recording don’t hesitate to obtain this upgrade -sensational listening.

Ian and Grace Lace

see also review by Colin Clarke

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