Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra; Rosenkavalier Suite; Don Juan

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Also sprach Zarathustra; Rosenkavalier Suite; Don Juan
PERFORMER: Bavarian RSO/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68225 2 DDD
Cynics may scoff at another Strauss selection, for another company, from the label-hopping Maazel. Yet the fact remains that when his imagination engages with his formidable technique, he can still bring off a brilliant piece of Straussian theatre. The Zarathustra, though dangerously broad in the eerie no man’s lands between major sequences, knows exactly where it’s going; a conductor as assured as this never has to punch home the big effects. The ‘joys of passions’ section treads air, with full-throated Bavarian horns infinitely superior at this point to their Vienna counterparts in the earlier DG recording. They also set their seal on the dazzling apogee of Maazel’s Don Juan, a hyper-lusty reading where time nonetheless stands still for the oboe’s plaintive second lady.

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Shades of the more indulgent Maazel linger in the ‘music-minus-one’ of the orchestral Rosenkavalier Rose-Presentation and Trio (sluggish pace apart, I see no reason to condemn this admirably selected operatic suite, now standard). The 1984 live Symphonia domestica also drags in the Lullaby and the early stages of the slow movement, though there’s much redeeming good humour and relish taken in the lurid comedy of screaming child and angry wife.

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Neither recording serves the performances as well as they should. RCA’s is artificially balanced with very little sense of surrounding ambience – the very bonus promised to those listeners with built-in ‘Dolby Surround’ systems; I can speak only for the majority. DG’s recording, on the other hand, grossly exaggerates the bass lines and organ of Zarathustra. David Nice