Among DG’s latest two-disc reissue packages, Karajan’s indomitable survey of STRAUSS tone poems (459 515-2) is an essential purchase, but what a pity he never taped the Symphonia domestica or Aus Italien for the yellow label.
Still, his 1959 Heldenleben warrants classic status, as does the 1973 Zarathustra. Michel Schwalbé’s matchless violin solos add lustre to each, though remember that they’re also available on DG’s bargain Panorama label (469 208-2), offering even better value.
Karajan and the Berliners set down the complete TCHAIKOVSKY symphonies in the late Seventies. No. 3, the Polish, has never been done much better, so grab this set of early symphonies if you don’t have this thrilling account already (459 518-2).
The G minor Winter Daydreams is slightly less satisfying (with some awkward tempo changes and several moments of Karajanesque overkill in the finale), though No. 2, the Little Russian, goes well, and the transfers are spacious, rich and detailed.
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV’s symphonies don’t enjoy the following of Tchaikovsky’s, but they’re worth getting to know (No. 2, Antar, is a splendid work), particularly if you’re interested in the symphonic ambitions of the ‘Mighty Handful’.
Neeme Järvi’s Gothenburg Symphony traversal (1987) was taped digitally in the opulent acoustic of the city’s Konserthus. The performances are exceptionally brilliant and authoritative, and a full reprint of Richard Taruskin’s erudite notes is also provided.
However, if one of the rarer Rimsky overtures (when did you last hear May Night for instance?) had replaced the over-recorded Capriccio espagnol this would have been even more enticing (459 512-2).
‘My subject is war, and the pity of war… All a poet can do today is warn.’ Wilfred Owen’s enduringly topical lines inspired BRITTEN’s War Requiem, a work that’s seldom been more powerfully or movingly represented on disc than in John Eliot Gardiner’s 1992 recording, from the Marienkirche, Lübeck.
A strong solo team (Luba Orgonasova, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Bo Skovhus) joins the NDR Symphony Orchestra and choirs in this inspirational account, though the couplings offered here – Spring Symphony, Five Flower Songs, Hymn to St Cecilia – aren’t in the same ‘must hear’ category (459 509-2).
Lastly from DG this month comes the definitive set of complete SAMUEL BARBER songs, performed by Cheryl Studer and Thomas Hampson (459 506-2).
Only Dover Beach, in which Hampson is joined by the Emerson Quartet, is widely known, but the rest (settings of poets as diverse as Housman, Rilke, García Villa and Joyce) are just as engaging, and these recordings are outstanding.