WORKS: Ein Heldenleben; Also Sprach Zarathustra; Don Quixote; Death and Transfiguration; Aus Italien
PERFORMER: New York Philharmonic/Willem Mengelberg; Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitsky; New York Philharmonic/Sir Thomas Beecham; Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski; Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Frederick Stock
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 60929 ADD mono
This month’s crop of historic recordings is good news for Straussians. The Mengelberg and Koussevitsky performances, although of considerable historic importance, leave a lot to be desired from the sonic point of view. The cushion of sound that one associates with Strauss is almost completely lacking, the general tone pinched and spindly.
A good deal has evidently been lost, but it is also clear that these were always lean, muscular accounts. Mengelberg’s reading of Heldenleben with the New York Philharmonic is measured, emphatic and emotionally tough, as is Koussevitsky’s Zarathustra with the Boston Symphony.
The recording quality of Beecham’s Don Quixote is far superior, enabling one to appreciate the conductor’s handling of detail in a characteristically thoughtful and well-disciplined performance.
Stokowski’s Death and Transfiguration shares the other recordings’ vitality and lack of self-indulgence. Put alongside the Horenstein performance, however, Stokowski’s is technically flawed, and it lacks the almost frightening intensity of Horenstein’s depiction of the dying man’s last suffering.
The Reiner recording of Zarathustrais the one from 1954, one of his earliest with the Chicago Symphony, and benefits from the opulent sound quality missing on earlier recordings. The burnished tone of the trumpets in their celebrated opening fanfares, and the palpable attack preceding each note, is enough to make one sit up in expectation. Nor is one disappointed. Barry Millington