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Thread: Strauss Tone Poems Recordings

  1. #121
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wkasimer View Post
    Judging from the picture (I haven't listened, since I have very limited tolerance for ASZ), it was fairly early in his career. Some of his early recordings with the Berlin PO (especially Schubert and Mendelssohn symphonies) are excellent.
    Agreed. I thought I hated Maazel until I heard his excellent Mendelssohn 5th with the BPO. Now I'm convinced he was one of the most inconsistent conductors of all time.

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  3. #122
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Today was a Don Juan day. I frankly had never paid much attention to this work before, seeing it more like a filler, but it's grown on me.

    Standing out the most as performances were Furtwangler's first and last live renditions, from 1942 and 1954. The 1942 is tense and exciting, but I was actually even more bowled over by his last BPO rendition, an amazing performance in excellent sound. This to me is a desert island choice, unfortunately only available through the large Audite RIAS set (which nonetheless is an integral set and worthy of a place on anyone’s shelf). The recording was from the same concert as Furtwangler's definitive Brahms 3rd issued on DG. It's a shame DG didn't issue this likewise definitive DJ along with it. Instead they issued a 1947 BPO which is not quite as good in either performance or sound, but certainly among his best. I have to say although the studio EMI is a good performance, it lacks the energy of his others. Given this and the fact that the others are live accounts, my search for an ideal DJ recommendation went elsewhere.

    There are lots of really good accounts of this piece which are appealing for different reasons. Kempe is quite lovely if not quite as much a standout. Solti/CSO is a real winner which checks all the boxes, exciting and beautiful. I had read that Karajan's earlier EMI and Decca readings were the ones to go for, but I found his '74 DG a better listening experience. As I have said before, I'd rather hear Karajan at his most self-assured, luxuriant best, and that tends to occur more often than not in the 70's. An excellent, engaging account, of course coupled with his unmatched ASZ and a Till Eulenspiegel that is nice but a bit mellow for my taste in that work. But I cannot leave out Reiner, a justly famous account sounding just gorgeous despite its age.

    And yet...I think top honors here must go to Szell/Cleveland, an energetic rendition from the word go that then also settles in to as beautiful an account of the poignant central oboe solo section as you're going to hear. This is also coupled with Ormandy's wonderful Heldenleben and Szell's spirited Till Eulenspiegel, so I can see now why so many have hailed this CD as a must-buy for Straussians. Indeed it is.

    So my current big board of Strauss recommendations adds another name to make for six different conductors in six different works. Something's got to give eventually, and I suspect it will be with Tod und Verklarung which shapes up as a Furtwangler vs Karajan battle. But you never know once you start listening and comparing!

    Eine Alpensinfonie - Kempe (EMI)
    Also sprach Zarathustra - Karajan 1974 (DG)
    Don Juan - Szell (Sony)
    Ein Heldenleben - Ormandy 1960 (Sony)
    Sinfonia domestica - Reiner (RCA)
    Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche - Furtwangler (EMI)
    Last edited by Brahmsianhorn; May-06-2020 at 07:12.

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  5. #123
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    I listened to a bunch of Tod und Verklarung recordings the past 48 hours. Is this Strauss's masterpiece? At least among orchestral works I'd have to say yes. You know this is probably true when there is such a plethora of great recordings that you can't choose between. I thought in the end this would turn out to be a Furtwangler vs Karajan battle with the possibility of another surprise, but there were plenty of other great recordings along the way.

    The first major surprise was the recording that failed to register as a great one despite its press clippings: Karajan's 1983 digital recording. I found this to be good in places but generally not very compelling, essentially nice sounds strung together almost aimlessly. It just did not strike me as Karajan at his most inspired or concentrated. Most crucially, it did not convince me of the greatness of the work.

    Other rather forgettable recordings included Maazel/NPO whom I had heard good things about and felt intrigued over after hearing his superlative ASZ from the same period, but it turned out to be nothing special. Dohnanyi had some powerful moments towards the end but was not otherwise too distinctive. Klemperer I found to have the appropriate gravitas, but his lack of elasticity ultimately proved a drawback in this dynamic work. Kempe is more at home, but his rendition was lacking in power and not as memorable as the best. Horenstein interpretively was a step up, but his orchestra lacked the cohesion and opulence to make a real impact in the climaxes.

    Reiners's VPO account is very beautiful and engaging, though a tad too meticulous for my taste. His earlier CSO account is very similar but lacks the opulent beauty of the VPO. Stokowski provides plenty of beauty in his surprisingly good sounding 1934 account, though not enough to warrant more than historical interest. He also gets a bit schmaltzy for a work like this, with distracting portamenti in the closing bars. De Sabata's 1949 reading is intense and concentrated, though it could open up a bit more in the climaxes. Knappertsbusch (1956, Testament) delivers a more idiomatic reading, making one think of Tristan und Isolde. Karajan's 1953 Philharmonia EMI is his most extravert reading, and already shows his mastery of the score.

    Toscanini left several intense, passionate, not to mention beautifully introspective accounts, my favorite being the 1938 NBC, though the better recorded studio 1950 version on RCA will be preferred by many. In between these two is a very dimly recorded 1942 Philadelphia account that I found to be slightly less intense though certainly striking in moments. Strauss himself conducted poignantly beautiful versions in 1926 with the Staatskapelle Berlin as well as in 1944 with the VPO, the latter the more powerfully inspired and obviously better recorded. In fact, excepting the sound quality the Strauss/VPO is a reference version. Krauss was recorded somewhat less dimly in 1947 with the LPO, and he left a reading that stands among the greats, with plenty of excitement and authority. The same can be said of Monteux, recorded much better in 1960. This is one of the handful of greatest recordings I've heard of this work, with clear mastery of the score and wonderful power and spontaneity, although the San Francisco musicians are not quite up to the standard of other top choices.

    Furtwangler employs his famed flexibility of tempo in just the right way in an intensely moving performance with the VPO on EMI. His recording immediately sets a sound world drawing you into the music, and from there he conducts a clinic of inspired music-making, ending with maybe the most powerful climax on record. I will say however that the 1950 sound is not as good as the coupled 1954 Till Eulenspiegel, and I kept thinking this is a drawback in making this an unqualified first choice. But regardless it should be at least heard by anyone who loves this work and Strauss for that matter.

    Enter George Szell and the recording that gave me the biggest surprise, though that shouldn't have been the case considering it is so universally admired. If this isn't Szell's greatest overall recording it certainly is near the top. I was bowled over by the perfection of it all, from the rhythmic incisiveness and dexterity to the beautiful sound throughout, and in particular the lovely oboe solo in the beginning. It is a captivating recording and ends in absolute tranquility. I was pretty much dead set on proclaiming this my top recommendation after hearing it.

    However, back came Karajan to redeem himself from the disappointment I felt at his famed 1983 outing. The earlier 1971 recording, paired with the famous Janowitz Four Last Songs, is worlds apart. This is Karajan at his most concentrated and masterly. It opens as hushed as any version, and then opens up to a reading of great power and drama. Throughout Karajan's gift of pacing and architecture comes through. The whole thing feels inevitable, and you are transported into a different world, which is exactly what we want in this work. Like Furtwangler before him, Karajan ends with a climax of overwhelming power. In short, Karajan '71 is one of the greatest Strauss recordings I've ever heard, not to mention one of Karajan's best recordings as well.

    So my big board of top recommendations adds for the first time a second version by one conductor. I've been going back and relistening to these, and they are all recordings sure to make you love Strauss. On to Metamorphosen, and I'm especially curious if the 70s vs 80s Karajan comparison mirrors the one for TuV.

    Eine Alpensinfonie - Kempe (EMI)
    Also sprach Zarathustra - Karajan 1974 (DG)
    Don Juan - Szell (Sony)
    Ein Heldenleben - Ormandy 1960 (Sony)
    Sinfonia domestica - Reiner (RCA)
    Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche - Furtwangler (EMI)
    Tod und Verklarung - Karajan 1971 (DG)

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  7. #124
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    ^I totally agree that ’70’s Karajan always seems to be the most inspired. Not always my first choice, but I really do enjoy his Beethoven, Strauss, and Bruckner from that period not to mention a few other individual recordings like the Prokofiev 5. Things seem crisper, better delineated, less muddled, more passionate. In the '60’s my impression is that he skimmed the surface more, while in the ’80’s things are a bit mushier. The overall sound he produced didn’t really change, but I think he made the most of it in the ’70’s recordings.

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  9. #125
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    ^I totally agree that ’70’s Karajan always seems to be the most inspired. Not always my first choice, but I really do enjoy his Beethoven, Strauss, and Bruckner from that period not to mention a few other individual recordings like the Prokofiev 5. Things seem crisper, better delineated, less muddled, more passionate. In the '60’s my impression is that he skimmed the surface more, while in the ’80’s things are a bit mushier. The overall sound he produced didn’t really change, but I think he made the most of it in the ’70’s recordings.
    Precisely my impression, which is not to say there are not exceptions. But 70s is where to me he really came into his own. For example, the '77 Beethoven 9th is to me far more impassioned and individual compared to the '63 while more alert and concentrated than the 80s digital.

  10. #126
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    Reiners's VPO account is very beautiful and engaging, though a tad too meticulous for my taste. His earlier CSO account is very similar but lacks the opulent beauty of the VPO.
    Reiner's earlier account is with RCAVictorSO [MetOpera - NY freelancers] - and it is sizzling and powerful...so is is VPO account.....both are the two best versions of the work...Reiner had the VPO playing right at [over??] the edge of "decency" - they are really going after it....in both recordings, the ultimate climax of the Transfiguration is overwhelming....when the trombones intone the transfiguration theme G-A-B- B[8va]-A-G - it is played as marked - FFF - accented, molto marcato [- iow - as loud as possible] - it is very powerful on both recordings.
    I mention this because one Karajan recording I heard [don't remember which, it was posted as an supposed example of the superiority of Karajan, Teutonic superiority in Germanic music, blah, blah, etc, etc] - was really lame, as in bad....it was played mf-forte, legato, non accent....absolutely wrong....no balls whatsoever...why would they even release something so badly misplayed?? He wanted it that way?? Anyway, I write Karajan off in this work..

    Toscanini/NBC is a good account, and so is Sinopoli/NYPO...I have a broadcast tape of Sinopoli/CSO which is very excellent, tho his NYPO account enjoys better recorded sound [presently NA??].

    So my big board of top recommendations adds for the first time a second version by one conductor.
    ......
    Don Juan - Szell (Sony)
    Szell is quite good - but Reiner owns this one....3 recordings - #1 with Pittsburgh; #2 - CSO '54 [great recording]; and #3 - again, with CSO '60 [the best there is - a single take job that is truly inspired....]
    Reiner's '60 version, like his '62 ASZ, is one of the greatest orchestra performances on record - done on a single take [I think they edited one horn miss] - this one just crackles with energy and excitement from the get-go...It explodes out of the blocks at a ripping tempo, the orchestra really alert, playing right at the front edge of the beat...the lush, lyrical "Love music" that follows is most passionately rendered, reaching a shattering climax of great intensity - having great principals to lead the way certainly helps - S. Harth/CM, P. Farkas/Hn, A. Herseth/tpt...the oboe solo [R. Still] is played with touching passion and expression, and the great CSO horns are truly noble and majestic with the big horn tune....great recap, as well, it's great to hear the horn really nail the high concert "Eb" on the recap of the horn tune - absolutely "swinging for the fence" - these guys make a great crescendo to the top, and all hit it brilliantly...I recall recordings by both Szell and Furtwangler where the horns "clam" here [it's a great spot for it!!] - perhaps these glitches have been edited out of present editions??

    Solti's recording is really excellent also...he doesn't quite get the crackling tempo of Reiner '60, but it moves along well, a very exciting account....I rate the Solti about even with Reiner '54...

  11. #127
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heck148 View Post
    Reiner's earlier account is with RCAVictorSO [MetOpera - NY freelancers] - and it is sizzling and powerful...so is is VPO account.....both are the two best versions of the work...Reiner had the VPO playing right at [over??] the edge of "decency" - they are really going after it....in both recordings, the ultimate climax of the Transfiguration is overwhelming....when the trombones intone the transfiguration theme G-A-B- B[8va]-A-G - it is played as marked - FFF - accented, molto marcato [- iow - as loud as possible] - it is very powerful on both recordings.
    I'll have to check out the RCAVictor Reiner.

    Quote Originally Posted by Heck148 View Post
    I mention this because one Karajan recording I heard [don't remember which, it was posted as an supposed example of the superiority of Karajan, Teutonic superiority in Germanic music, blah, blah, etc, etc] - was really lame, as in bad....it was played mf-forte, legato, non accent....absolutely wrong....no balls whatsoever...why would they even release something so badly misplayed?? He wanted it that way?? Anyway, I write Karajan off in this work..
    If you look at the beginning and end of my post, you'll see where I note a stark difference in my impression of Karajan's famous digital recording vs his 70s version. The difference was night and day, with the 80s comparatively mellow and aimless whereas the 70s is one of the greatest Strauss recordings I've heard, overwhelming in its power and command of architecture. I'll even admit it's more inspired than my beloved Furtwangler, somehow managing to stretch the work to a heavenly 27 minutes.

    I once read Furtwangler's reaction to Abendroth's Meistersinger as being "couldn't have done it better myself." I imagine he'd have the same reaction to Karajan '71 Tod.

  12. #128
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Listening to Klemperer's Metamorphosen and it is pretty engrossing. Wkasimir, you mentioned this recording earlier.

    And sure enough, I also felt a stronger sense of direction and purpose in Karajan's 70s version vs his 80s version as well.

  13. #129
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Wow, what a weekend spent listening over and over to Metamorphosen! I can't believe I managed to keep my wits about me. This is a work that is impossible to choose a "reference" version for, mainly because there are so many varying takes on it. In the end, I could see anyone choosing to live with either Kempe, Klemperer, or 80s Karajan, but better yet would be to obtain all three. I see these three as constituting a fascinating contrast between Karajan's tragic power, Kempe's elegiac beauty, and Klemperer's hypnotic gravitas.

    Ironically, Karajan's earlier analogue DG is closer in spirit to Kempe than it is to his own later recording. Here he takes a more graceful, beautiful approach, less declamatory and more concentrated and reined in, which some may see as preferable to the later one. The recording is more distant, producing a creamier sound, maybe a bit too much for a such a solemn work. Still, it is paired with what I consider a matchless Tod und Verklarung, so it will be worth acquiring regardless.

    However, the Karajan to hear is his last one. I called Karajan's digital Tod und Verklarung a disappointment, especially compared to the earlier version. Not so with Metamorphosen. Perhaps this is why it is tracked first on the disc (the opposite of the analogue disc's order). This is Karajan at his most extravagantly ambitious. The big climax in the final third of the work has probably never been more devastating on record, reminding me of the impact of his '82 Mahler 9th and '88 Bruckner 8th. The overall string tone is harsher than his earlier version, not to mention Kempe's, but the emphasis here is on drama over beauty, and it is quite overwhelming. At the same time, part of me wondered if this represents more of a one-off than an ideal representative version of the work. It is at times a bit heavy-handed, with perhaps too much emphasis on the sheer power of the BPO strings.

    Kempe's version emphasizes more the intimate solemnity in addition to the powerful drama. The string tone is gorgeous and appropriately sorrowful, and his conducting is endlessly illuminating. There is more reverential dignity and nobility with Kempe, and I felt swept away as I did with his Alpensinfonie.

    But then enter Klemperer, and in addition to solemn nobility we hear clarity of line and inevitability of structure. This is the other end of the spectrum from Karajan's emotional reading, with Klemperer maintaining a steady, unrelenting interpretation throughout. The effect of this approach is devastating, even if the tone is not as beautifully poignant as Kempe's Dresdeners. Some may even see Klemperer's approach as overly harsh, and for them Kempe may be an ideal compromise between Karajan's overt emotion and Klemperer's clarity of purpose.

    Barbirolli emulates the largeness of Karajan but even more freely, the string sound predictability enchanting. As ever with this conductor the results are compelling, with everything beautifully judged, but when set against Klemperer you can see how much this work requires more discipline for the overall effect to come through.

    The live Furtwangler from 1947 is fascinating and does nothing to settle the debate over how the work should go. His version is relentlessly urgent, one of the fastest ever recorded. But his gift for phrasing and communicative tone make this uniquely compelling despite the murky sound. Karajan recorded the work in studio the very same year, and it is likewise compelling but in a completely opposite interpretation, lengthening the phrases and providing an overall arc to the work that IMO is even more convincing than either of his later versions despite the dated sound.

    There are other newer recordings that are also worth seeking out, including those by Previn, Jarvi and Marriner/ASMF that are musical if not quite with the personality of those listed above. Blomstedt/Dresden is fairly forgettable. Much more compelling are Richard Stamp and Iona Brown, both of whom use generally light textures but increase the tensions en route to exciting climaxes.

    But for a first recommendation, choice comes down to the three K's: Kempe, Karajan, and Klemperer. The analogue Karajan is a good choice for those wanting a relatively controlled version expertly paced. The later Karajan is perhaps the most overtly powerful on record. But for me the reference version comes down to either Kempe or Klemperer, and it is practically a coin flip. It comes down ultimately to a situation where if I texted a friend - "I've been getting into Strauss lately. Have you heard Metamorphosen?" - which version would I send him? And without even thinking Klemperer occurs first. This is the version that for me tells the story and makes me appreciate the work the most, and that is always the ultimate criterion.

    Kempe does still have the more essential and attractive couplings. It is interesting to note that in Volume 3 of the original Kempe complete Strauss edition, his superlative Alpensinfonie and Metamorphosen are paired together as well as with his acclaimed Don Quixote, Aus Italien, and Macbeth. I noticed that in Gramophone Magazine's guide from the 90s they gave the first two volumes 2 stars each but the third one was given 3 stars as well as a "100 greatest recordings of all time" designation, which matches my reaction to the recordings as well. Whether by accident or design this appears to be the choice Kempe volume to get, though certainly many will want the complete works sets issued more recently.

    All that's left for me now is to sample Don Quixote (starting with Tortelier/Kempe, Fournier/Karajan, Janigro/Reiner, and Fournier/Szell) and then Aus Italian/Macbeth (assuming Kempe barring a major surprise) to complete my big board of recommendations:

    Eine Alpensinfonie - Kempe (EMI)
    Also sprach Zarathustra - Karajan (1974, DG)
    Don Juan - Szell (Sony)
    Ein Heldenleben - Ormandy (Sony)
    Metamorphosen - Klemperer (EMI)
    Sinfonia domestica - Reiner (RCA)
    Tod und Verklarung - Karajan (1972, DG)
    Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche - Furtwangler (EMI)
    Last edited by Brahmsianhorn; May-11-2020 at 14:52.

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  15. #130
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    ^I’ve gotta give it to ya...you are one patient listener! I don’t think I would be able to listen to as much Strauss as you have without losing my mind! Really helpful recommendations though. Not quite on the thread topic, but do you have any Four Last Songs recommendations?
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - G.K. Chesterton

    "Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe." - Douglas Adams

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  17. #131
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    ^I’ve gotta give it to ya...you are one patient listener! I don’t think I would be able to listen to as much Strauss as you have without losing my mind! Really helpful recommendations though. Not quite on the thread topic, but do you have any Four Last Songs recommendations?
    Metamorphosen is some heavy-duty listening, I'll tell you. I'm looking forward to an emotional respite with Don Quixote today.

    I've been a devout lover of the Schwarzkopf/Szell for 25 years, but like everything that could also stand a focused "taste test." I know I have sampled others, like Della Casa, Janowitz, Norman, and Schwarzkopf/Ackermann, but none have replaced S'kopf/Szell in my affections. The closest probably would be Flagstad/Furtwangler, but if any Furtwangler recording has intolerable sound, it is this one. But no doubt there is great art coming through the crackles.
    Last edited by Brahmsianhorn; May-11-2020 at 16:22.

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  19. #132
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    For Don Quixote, I also recommend giving the Karajan EMI recording with Rostropovich a listen.

    And don't leave out Macbeth! I mean, come on. Go for complete. (Kempe for Macbeth in my opinion. No one else has ever convinced me to pay much attention to it. Also, neither Karajan nor Reiner ever recorded it, to my knowledge.)
    Last edited by Knorf; May-11-2020 at 17:49.

  20. #133
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    For Don Quixote, I also recommend giving the Karajan EMI recording with Rostropovich a listen.

    And don't leave out Macbeth! I mean, come on. Go for complete. (Kempe for Macbeth in my opinion. No one else has ever convinced me to pay much attention to it. Also, neither Karajan nor Reiner ever recorded it, to my knowledge.)
    Right, that's what I said at the bottom of my post - Macbeth and Aus Italien. The 3rd Kempe Strauss box contains these plus Alpensinfonie, Metamorphosen, and Don Quixote. Pretty indispensible.

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    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Ah, so you did. I guess my eyes slipped right over that. Apologies.

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    There is a live performance of Metamorphosen with Szell/Cleveland, well worth your time if you run across it.

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