Strauss: Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche; Also sprach Zarathustra

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LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche; Also sprach Zarathustra
PERFORMER: Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 87071 2
Do we view Richard Strauss’s early orchestral works with too much hindsight? That’s the kind of question you might find yourself asking after hearing David Zinman’s performances. Even Solti’s high-voltage versions of these three works – available in a generously filled mid-price two-CD Decca set — have something of the opulence and suavity one associates with later masterpieces like the opera Der Rosenkavalier or the Four Last Songs. In Zinman’s hands there is less gloss: the orchestral Sound can be hard, even abrasive, and textures are far less homogenous than usual – the effect possibly magnified by the up-front recordings which, admittedly, take a it of getting used to. The emphasis s not so much on long, sweeping lines as on dynamic shorter phrases, and the gain in energy and rhythmic muscle is electrifying. Some listeners may find it crude; but more, I think, will find it revealing. In these versions, this is the music of a brilliant young modernist, yet at the same time this is a Strauss who strives for much more than effect. The dissolution at the end of Don Juan is genuinely unsettling, the humour in Till Eulenspiegel springs to life as it rarely does today, and even in Also sprach Zarathustra there’s a driving conviction which charges Strauss’s somewhat over-ambitious philosophical narrative with unusual physical excitement. Recommended to enthusiasts and doubters alike. Stephen Johnson