R Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra/Don Juan/Till Eugenspiegels lustige Streiche

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COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: Orfeo
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra/Don Juan/Till Eugenspiegels lustige Streiche
WORKS: Also sprach Zarathustra; Don Juan; Till Eugenspiegels lustige Streiche
PERFORMER: CBSO/Andris Nelsons
CATALOGUE NO: C 878 141 A

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On the first occasion Strauss’s three best-known symphonic poems appeared together – and it was a real stretch for the LP era – Decca proclaimed Georg Solti’s trilogy ‘The Richard Strauss Album’. Andris Nelsons’s, too, is a mostly superlative album coming up to the composer’s 150th anniversary month. He knows he can ask anything of his players, starting with the trumpet crescendo on the third note of Also sprach Zarathustra’s Kubrick-immortalised nature theme. They have space and freedom between the surges of the poetic tribute to Nietzsche, especially the woodwind – the cor anglais rhapsodies are haunting, the pair of clarinets just before the ambiguous end supremely exquisite. And Nelsons attacks when necessary with full-throttle precipitation, linking the drive towards Superman (Übermensch) status with Don Juan’s extraordinary élan where the anticipatory string tremolos are just as exciting as the great horn theme. Here the shadowlands are even more sustained, highlighting the restless lover’s death wish.

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Nelsons’s unique interplay between energy and relaxation works slightly less well in Till Eulenspiegel, where the rondo momentum has been better sustained in recent performances by Manfred Honeck and Markus Stenz. But again the cast of solos in this ‘opera for orchestra’ is unerringly taken by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra principals. It’s bizarre that the star of them all, the leader who plays Zarathustra’s waltzing rhapsody so brilliantly, goes uncredited in Orfeo’s presentation. The sound isn’t quite ideal, either – we don’t feel the space of Birmingham’s great hall – but Nelsons’s charisma always shines through. David Nice