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R. Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Etc / Blomstedt

Release Date: 06/09/1998 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 448815   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Herbert Blomstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

This recording was released by Decca in 1998, a time in which the classical industry was at the height of its suicidal business practice of incessantly issuing new recordings of redundant repertoire and then quickly cutting them out. It's no wonder then that Herbert Blomstedt's San Francisco Symphony Strauss recordings were all but forgotten. But that is no indication of the quality of the music-making, for these are very fine performances.

Blomstedt's singular view of Also sprach Zarathustra reflects his deep knowledge of and experience with the piece (he previously recorded it with the Staatskapelle Dresden). He's much more concerned with musical line than with splashy effects, rounding off phrases and seamlessly
Read more dovetailing the various sections. The big climaxes arise organically rather than as "showstoppers", but they are no less striking for that.

The San Francisco Symphony plays masterfully, its characteristic warm sound (especially in the strings) allied with a virtuoso polish that nonetheless conveys a sense of discovery. Decca's high fidelity recording captures the full range of the orchestra from the bright piccolo to the deep organ pedal tones. In Death and Transfiguration Blomstedt deftly manages the opening's journey from tranquility to foreboding to terror. The dramatic passages are full of fire, yet again Blomstedt is chiefly concerned with line. Blomstedt's rollicking Till Eulenspiegel demonstrates the conductor's lightheartedness and sense of comedic timing, as well as the orchestra's brilliance--the woodwinds sound especially vibrant and colorful here.

Of course, these performances are up against some pretty stiff competition from classic recordings by Reiner, Szell, and Kempe, but Blomstedt's disc (with its excellent sound) stands out among modern versions--a choice recording, available via Arkivmusic.com's on-demand service.

--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com

We may understand the rationale, but it’s a pity nonetheless. When Decca put together it’s generally excellent Strauss box, it included all of Blomstedt’s recordings except Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. The reason was because Blomstedt never made Don Quixote for Decca, so they decided to use Kurt Masur’s Gewandhaus version, and that came coupled with Till Eulenspiegel. Blomstedt’s performance, which by rights ought to have been included, got left out in the cold–not that the Masur was poor or in any way unworthy.

So if your enjoyed Blomstedt’s Strauss, and it is arguably the best series since Kempe and Karajan, then you will need to find this disc, which is wholly wonderful. First of all, you get a very full program. Instead of the usual Till Don Death, we have Till Death Sprach, and both of the latter works receive superb performances by any standard: swift, intense, virtuosic, and gorgeously recorded. The climax of Death and Transfiguration arrives effortlessly, and glows just as it must. Zarathustra has seldom come off more cohesively, its various sections knit together by unerringly judged tempos.

Of course, the reason for acquiring the disc is to have Till Eulenspiegel, and it’s every bit as good. Blomstedt was one of those Strauss conductors who was able to bring a welcome lightness and transparency to even the thickest textures. The music never bogs down. Consider the big climax just before the judgement scene, with the sensitive and aptly comic dynamic contrasts between the pompous court tribunal and the meekly submissive Till. It’s quite delightful, and the engineering was always pretty terrific too. So if you can find this single release (you can get it most easily in the USA on demand from Arkivmusic.com), and if it doesn’t involve a ridiculous amount of duplication, and if you miss having Blomstedt’s Till, then by all means, indulge.

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

Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Herbert Blomstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1895-1896; Germany 
Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Herbert Blomstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888-1889; Germany 
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Herbert Blomstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894-1895; Germany 

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