Recordings of June 1989: Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra

STRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan
Herbert Blomstedt, Staatskapelle Dresden
Denon CD-2259 (CD only). Claus Struben, eng.; Takashi Baba, prod. DDD. TT: 51:07

STRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Tod und Verklärung
André Previn, Vienna Philharmonic
Telarc CD-80167 (CD only). Jack Renner, eng.; James Mallinson, prod. DDD. TT: 61:35

These are two very fine discs. Both convey to perfection the full weight of Richard Strauss's opulent orchestration for Zarathustra without the slightest hint of distortion, despite the huge dynamic range both employ. Both have the measure of the venues they are recorded in: Denon's Lukaskirche actually gives the impression of an acoustically superior concert hall, and it is astonishing to discover from the insert notes that the well tuned-in and integrated organ has been post-synchronized from the Schauspielhaus, Berlin.

Telarc's disc is their first of the Vienna Philharmonic, and their first from the Musikvereinsaal. It can hardly be faulted, except perhaps for the consistent richness of its more tonally refulgent sound—some may find this oppressive. But it does reflect perfectly Previn's more emotionally charged, almost maniacal response to this score. It is the kind of music he excels in; the meditative, almost ponderous fugue giving way to the near hysteria of "The Convalescent," and reflecting real joy at the climax of the "Dance Song." Previn is living these colorful swings of emotion, and if he makes great demands of the score in doing so (just as Blomstedt does), then his intuitive balance renders this all the more convincing.

Admittedly, there are a few errors in this reading, but overall the depth of Previn's vision wins through. Blomstedt seems a little less impulsive, more cerebral in intent—his view is equally persuasive.

Choice might well be determined by the fillers on each disc: Blomstedt's Don Juan is an uncomplicated character, jovial, exuberant, and with a more prominent spring to his step as he warms to his task! Previn's Tod und Verklärung has a nobility and breadth, soloists from every section of the orchestra offering up their technical and emotional best in celebration of this wonderful score.—Barbara Jahn