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Strauss: Don Quixote, Also Sprach Zarathustra / Dimitri Mitropoulos, Et Al


Release Date: 09/29/2009 
Label:  Medici Masters   Catalog #: 35-2   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Performer:  Paul SchroerAlwin Bauer
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Fulsome command and direction.

Mitropoulos was a formidable Straussian, one who sought to bind any extraneous moments to the symphonic body of the argument. This makes for revealing listening in this brace of broadcast performances made in Cologne in September 1959. Mitropoulos was ailing by then, with about a year left to live. He’d suffered a severe heart attack in January but had recovered sufficiently to undertake performances again. Both items derive from the concert given in Saal 1 of the Funkhaus in Cologne with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, now known as the WDR Symphony Orchestra. And both performances have been released before.

There is a strong sense of cumulative integrity about his
Read more Don Quixote. It’s expressive, characterful, and burnished with mellifluous lyricism as one establishes from the outset, and as is reinforced by the phrasing in the Thema, when Quixote and Sancho Panza are both introduced. The Battle with the Sheep even evokes Zemlinskian fin de siè cle phantasmagoria, the brass amalgam proving compelling in its stridency. There’s a raptly sustained Variation III, in which the strings – despite the slightly chilly studio sound – sing out with verve. As for the two soloists, Alwin Bauer (cello) and Paul Schroer (viola), they are the orchestra’s principals and thus show acute rhythmic perception. Where other starrier names might distend passages and lose impetus these two fine, though less tonally alluring musicians, ensure both that the tonal fabric is secure and integrated and that the metronome keeps ticking. Bauer has a noble profile and is unindulgent. The wind flurry in Wind VII is cinematically realised – highly realistic – and there’s a consummate apotheosis in Quixote’s death.

The companion work was Also Sprach Zarathustra. Drama-laced though it is, it’s not laid out for sonic spectacular approval by the conductor. He treats it less like a mosaic of gestures and more like a tightly constructed organism that repays the closest aural, timbral and intellectual investigation. He realises the joy at the heart of II, Of the Backworldsmen, and the deeply pondered contemplative depth of III ( Of Great Longing). This is quite philosophically heavy in tread but Mitropoulos certainly manages to make contrasts in mood and feeling with acute judgement. Stern auditors might find that the latter part of the work gets just a touch bogged down rhythmically, but I think they would agree that Mitropoulos’s commitment is unflinching, powerful and predicated on threading the symphonic needle through the sections to present it as a cohesive whole.

Any interpretative caveats then are swept aside by the fulsome command and direction of the musicianship.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International

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Captured in concert on September 7, 1959, these performances have been kicking around on various pirate labels. Presumably this release is authorized. The back of the tray card proudly claims “FROM THE PRODUCERS OF BBC LEGENDS,” but anyone who knows that series will understand that this is not necessarily a recommendation, given the wildly variable quality and frequent lack of artistic judgment endemic to those releases. Happily these performances, while not perfect, are well recorded in decent mono, and give a fair representation of Mitropoulos’ spontaneous way with Strauss.

Playing these two works together on one program is a serious challenge, and it was even more so for a German radio orchestra in 1959. That the Cologne players do so well is a tribute to their stamina, as well as to Mitropoulos’ leadership. Nevertheless, there are moments where they do sound tired. Also sprach Zarathustra suffers from frayed ensemble in a couple of spots, most notably at the start of “The Convalescent” and toward the end of the “Dance Song,” and so I assume it was played second on the program. Otherwise, the performance is typically exciting and has some interesting textural details–for example, the particularly prominent organ accompanying the string hymn in “Of the Dwellers in the Nether-world.”

Don Quixote, though, is the real prize. This is as colorful and brash a version as any on disc, with excellent solo work from cellist Alwin Bauer and violist Paul Schroer. The tenor-tuba player also deserves special mention for his unapologetically rotund portrait of Sancho Panza. In Mitropoulos’ hands each variation is fully characterized, from the battle with the sheep to the encounter with the false Dulcinea and the subsequent flight through the air. One of Mitropoulos’ great gifts was his ability to create and sustain tension, especially in lyrical music such as we hear at the end of “Dialogues Between the Knight and his Squire.” This gives the entire work unusual coherence where other versions let the music sag.

In sum, the performance has no dead spots: the Don’s death doesn’t drag, and if there are a few sour sounds from the winds at the start, well, they only support Strauss’ illustration of the knight’s descent into madness. This is a worthy memento of an artist whose increasingly positive posthumous reputation is well-deserved, even if the cult status he enjoys among his hard-core fans seems a bit much. Listen and judge for yourself.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. Don Quixote, Op. 35 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Paul Schroer (Viola), Alwin Bauer (Cello)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896-1897; Germany 
Length: 39 Minutes 55 Secs. 
2. Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Paul Schroer (Viola), Alwin Bauer (Cello)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1895-1896; Germany 

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