This two-disc set contains much of Strauss’s finest orchestral
music, played by an orchestra closely associated with the composer
throughout his life and beyond. As with their Bruckner performances,
these reissues from the 1980s find the orchestra and their Swedish-American
conductor Herbert Blomstedt at the peak of their form. Likewise
the original Denon recordings sound splendid in their new incarnations.
To confirm this enthusiastic response, there could be no start
more compelling than the opening of Also sprach Zarathustra,
a showcase for the orchestra and recording engineers if ever
there was one. It is intriguing to compare recordings in this
music, with issues such as the release of dynamic range and
the particular sound of the timpani and the organ making all
the difference from one performance to another. While there
is no one performance that is ‘the right way’, this one, in
common for example with André Previn and the Vienna Philharmonic
(Philips), makes the music sound as if it could not possibly
be otherwise. To be sure, the Blomstedt recording brings much
From this impressive opening Blomstedt and his players are sensitive
to every nuance of Strauss’s sophisticated score. In particular
the subtle web of divided strings in ‘Von der Wissenschaft’
is a miracle of controlled shadings and dynamics, while at the
other extreme the rich-toned climaxes of the ‘Tanzlied’
are extraordinarily impressive. If the ebb and flow of the music
uses in some indulgent ritardandos, this seems wholly in keeping
with the score’s nature.
Don Juan follows on disc one, a suitably ardent cavalier
from bar one. Again the orchestral balance is admirably projected,
while the contrasting feminine aspect of the work features as
fine an oboe solo as one could wish to hear. This music is well
represented on CD, by the likes of Rudolf Kempe (EMI), Bernard
Haitink (Philips), Karl Böhm (DGG) and Giuseppe Sinopoli (DGG),
but Blomstedt and the Dresden orchestra stand proudly among
this exalted company.
Likewise Till Eulenspiegel offers a platform for the
Dresden Staatskapelle to state their case as one of the great
Strauss orchestras. With its closely narrative style this piece
asks a great deal of individual players, and they do not disappoint.
The horn and clarinet, for example, are peerless in their control
and imagination, while the ensemble projection of the panic
and excitement as Till rides headlong through the crowds is
nothing short of thrilling.
Metamorphosen, written for Paul Sacher’s Zürich Collegium
Musicum, is altogether different from these tone poems for large
orchestra. Subtitled ‘Mourning for Munich’, it represents
the composer’s response to the destruction of the Germany he
knew and loved as the result of the Second World War. The world
Strauss had known all his long life lay in ruins.
The eighty-year-old composer sought consolation in creativity.
Metamorphosen is a 'study for twenty-three solo strings'.
It is an elegy which surely ranks as one of his finest compositions
as well as one of the supreme examples of the triumph of the
sensitive human spirit in time of adversity. An extended Adagio
unfolds in a rich and often complex polyphony, with the ebb
and flow of more agitated contrasting statements enhancing the
nostalgic search for consolation. This fine Dresden performance
captures its every nuance.
The collection is completed by yet another magnificent performance.
Blomstedt’s Tod und Verklärung exudes a strong sense
of the music's shape and structure, with particularly well chosen
tempi and a burning intensity in the climaxes, with the Transfiguration
theme making a huge impression on its various appearances.
see also reviews by Brian
Reinhart (January 2010 Bargain of the Month) and