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OF THE MONTH
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OF THE MONTH
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote, Fantastic variations on a theme of knightly
character op. 35 (1897) [43:03]
Don Juan, symphonic poem op. 20 (1888) [16:00]
Janigro (cello), Milton Preves (viola)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. Orchestra Hall, Chicago, 11April 1959, 6 December 1954,
musical treat which despite its age still sounds remarkably
the avalanche of new material the prospect of a reissue,
even of an acknowledged “classic performance”, does not always
whet the appetite of the overwhelmed collector. However when
the re-mastering is allied with a first appearance in a new
format then perhaps curiosity may yet be kindled.
recordings of Richard Strauss orchestral music during the
1950s are still, for many, benchmarks in this repertoire.
Quite apart from the superlative playing and authoritative
interpretations some of the readings were amongst the earliest
examples of stereo made widely available to the general public. “Also
Sprach Zarathustra” actually kicked off the series of Strauss
discs as far back as 1954, to be closely followed by the “Don
Juan” included on the present issue.
on LP, tape and CD on numerous incarnations over the last
fifty or so years these performances have graced the catalogue … indeed
it would be much the poorer without them. Both in detail
and overall conception they exude masterly insight into Strauss’s
world, tremendously virtuosic but never for its own sake,
with fantastic playing always at the service of the music.
The tremendous sweep and fire of Don Juan for instance
will rivet you to your seat, yet the scenes of wooing are
as gentle and seductive as you could wish for …. albeit with
an appropriate steely glint not too far in the background!
Surely the return of the leaping horn and string motive near
the end of the work is one of the great moments in all recorded
music. Frankly if you care for Strauss and have not heard
these - or Reiner’s other recordings for that matter - …do
But … even
for those familiar with these treasures the question is bound
to be begged ….. how do they sound in their new format ?
I have to report miracles have not been worked. Even with
an SACD player and a multi-channel set-up you will not hear
these recordings in full surround sound. Originally they
were three track recordings, and that is how they are presented
here: front left, centre and front right channels only are
operable. In fact I listened to the SACD layer in conventional
stereo, so my experience was not far removed from the optimum.
Additionally I had a previous CD incarnation (09026-68170-2),
and an LP issue (Camden Classics CCV 5051: of Don Juan only)
for purposes of comparison. The results were interesting.
a nutshell comparing CD and SACD was rather like comparing
historic reissues from a comparative non-interventionist
school and with one from a decided interventionist. The CD
seemed more of the former stable; more open and freer at
the top with, as a consequence, a somewhat less tractable
differential is particularly apparent in the taping of “Don
Juan”, which as a recording hasn’t aged as well as the similarly
venerable “Zarathustra”. Both are set in a reverberant acoustic
and Don Juan has alas never been a completely “comfortable” listen
in any format. The sound suffers from marked overload-type
distortion in the brass and percussion, when going full pelt,
which occasionally creeps into the strings as well. On the
LP this is particularly apparent, and it’s not much improved
on the CD.
with the re-mastering for SACD there does seem to have been
a real effort to combat this, and Don Juan at least
sounds more “comfortable” than I had ever previously heard it. The
string sound has been cleaned up, whilst the percussion are
definitely easier on the ear. Only the brass, trumpets especially,
still sound a mite congested, but even here there’s been
recording of Don Quixote meanwhile dates from some
five years later and has never to my knowledge suffered such
Here I only had the CD for comparison and would say the contrast
was subtler. Again the SACD sounded a little “darker”, more
rounded in sonority, possibly losing a little openness at
the top. Essentially, in this case, the differences could
be summed up as …..“swings and roundabouts”.
if you want to demonstrate your SACD equipment to the nth
degree and wow your friends and neighbours with Richard Strauss
you’ll probably look at more recent issues with full surround
capabilities. If you do you will be missing a musical treat
which despite its age, still sounds remarkably good.
if you take the plunge and purchase this issue, be warned
on one other technical point. Between 1954 and 1959 Reiner
changed the layout of his Chicago orchestra. In the earlier
recording the violins are split left and right, with violas
and cellos between and the double-basses behind the cellos.
By the Quixote sessions he was seating all the violins
on the left, violas centre, cellos right and basses hard
right. No need to fear that your equipment is playing tricks!
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