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Harold Moores

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30a (1896) [31’53]
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40b (1898) [43’39].
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner (bJohn Weicher, violin).
Rec. Orchestra Hall, Chicago on March a6th and b8th, 1954. ADD
RCA RED SEAL LIVING STEREO SACD 82876 61389 2 [75’40]


More classic interpretations from the RCA Living Stereo SACD series. Richard Strauss could almost have designed his scores as sonic spectaculars, and the bright light of RCA’s recordings helps paint these works in almost psychedelic fashion. Both works on this disc are divided by the composer into named sections, all of which are individually tracked here for ease of reference.

Reiner’s Also sprach is miraculous not only because of the luscious sound picture it presents, but also for a structural grasp that ensures the piece at no moment sprawls. There is hiss accompanying the subterranean opening, but there is also a palpable sense of anticipation. Sunrise is mightily impressive – yet is that a touch of wow in the organ afterglow immediately following it?.

Magnificent strings populate the ‘Unseen world’ – the close-miking only emphasises their intimate murmurings. But for evidence of Reiner’s affinity for Strauss one need only point to ‘Of joys and passions’.

The sheer discipline of this performance is remarkable, but so is Reiner’s ear for colour. ‘The convalescent’ is darkly presented, so that when light comes, it really glistens at around four minutes into this track. Some of the sparkles of the following section could almost come from the pen of Rimsky-Korsakov!

Ein Heldenleben is a remarkable essay in self-aggrandisement. Reiner makes sure the hero we encounter is bold and fearless. The spiky, nit-picking critics, heard this close up, are an intimidating lot. His wife, though, is altogether more complex – heard, of course, in the form of the solo violin, here the truly excellent John Weicher.

Predictably perhaps, the Battle Field is one of the utmost carnage, with mechanistic rhythms and the quasi-atonal elements emphasised. Perhaps the ascending trumpet line could have been more of an agonised cry, but the rhythmic unison at 5’24 (track 13) and the ensuing, forceful octave outcome carry real structural weight. The close of the work has all of the harmonic and textural repose necessary - which is a lot, considering the histrionics of the Battle. This Hero does indeed achieve peace as he retreats from the earthy plane.

Colin Clarke


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