Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra; Eine Alpensinfonie; Ein Heldenleben; Don Juan; Symphonia domestica; Till Eulenspiegel; Tod und Verklärung; Macbeth; Rosenkavalier Suite

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Also sprach Zarathustra; Eine Alpensinfonie; Ein Heldenleben; Don Juan; Symphonia domestica; Till Eulenspiegel; Tod und Verklärung; Macbeth; Rosenkavalier Suite
PERFORMER: Bavarian RSO/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63265 2 Reissue (1995-8)
RCA may well have shot itself in the foot with its packaging here. With five images of Maazel ranging from the posturing to the dignified, and none of Strauss, the presentation will probably appeal only to those members of the international set who place the Maestro on a pedestal above the music he conducts. No-one would regard this as the ideal Strauss collection, either: to qualify, an over-lacquered Rosenkavalier Suite and the inessential rhetoric of Macbeth – thrustingly delivered, at least – should have been replaced with that most tirelessly inventive of the tone-poems, Don Quixote, conspicuous by its absence. Two of these issues have appeared separately already, with an effortlessly coasted Zarathustra and a heady Don Juan cancelled out by a Symphonia Domestica in which Maazel stretches out the happy sentimentality to unacceptably mawkish dimensions.

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Then, unexpectedly, he goes and pulls off that labour of love of which we know him to be occasionally capable these days. Last to be recorded in the series is the disc featuring a magnificent Alpine Symphony, gravely beautiful from the moment the mountain theme makes its first appearance, if deliberately short on human nuance; Maazel comes close to Mravinsky in favouring a Brucknerian objectivity in nature-worship. The way to the summit is perfectly paced – even a cheerful speed through Alpine pastures fits in without fuss – and the Epilogue, impeccably intoned by unison woodwind, runs Karajan close for sustained, solemn beauty. Digital mixing presumably best savoured on an expensive‘Dolby Surround’ system actually works miracles here in conventional stereo, for in this thickly scored work there is never a hint of harsh edges or trumpet overkill, and the many strands of alpine thicket and storm stand perfectly revealed. The other newcomer prefaces a Heldenleben rather more questionably subjected to Maazel’s broad stretches of aristocratic grandeur with a handsome Till Eulenspiegel in which the likeable Bavarian principals have a field-day. The employment of muted trumpets for both the hero’s summons to battle, incidentally, is bizarre. Neither of these discs has as yet been released separately; the Alpine Symphony should, and must, be allowed a life of its own.