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The Last Concerts - Richard Strauss / Strauss, Blumen, Philharmonia Orchestra, Bbc So

Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  Testament   Catalog #: 1441   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Performer:  Alfred Blumen
Conductor:  Richard Strauss
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia OrchestraBBC Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R. STRAUSS Don Juan. 1 Burleske. 2 Sinfonia domestica. 1 Till Eulenspiegel lustige Streiche 3 & Richard Strauss, cond; Alfred Blumen (pn); 2 Philharmonia O; 1,2 BBC SO 3 Read more class="ARIAL12"> TESTAMENT 1441, mono (2 CDs: 100:27) Live: London 10/19/1947; 1,2 10/29/1947 3

& Example from untreated acetates of Don Juan

In October 1947 in London, Sir Thomas Beecham held a festival of the music of Richard Strauss, with the 83-year-old composer in attendance. Beecham conducted his year-old Royal Philharmonic in two all-Strauss concerts and two broadcast performances of Elektra ; Strauss himself conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in a concert of his works on October 19, and on October 29 guest-conducted the BBC Symphony in his Till Eulenspiegel , part of a program otherwise conducted by the orchestra’s regular conductor, Sir Adrian Boult. The recorded legacy of this festival has long been known to be substantial; Beecham had already recorded the suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme and excerpts from Salome and Feuersnot earlier in the year, and during the festival itself made studio recordings of the final scenes of Ariadne auf Naxos and Elektra , some shorter opera excerpts, and the tone poems Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben . One of the Elektra broadcasts is extant and was issued on LP by the Sir Thomas Beecham Society.

The October 19 concert conducted by Strauss was also broadcast, but only the Burleske existed in Britain’s National Sound Archive; recently, however, acetate discs of the entire concert and also of the Till Eulenspiegel performance recorded off the air by a professional engineer were part of a large collection acquired by the Archive, and the present set is its first release. These were the last concerts Strauss conducted.

Since the recordist, Kenneth Leach, had to change the 78-rpm discs every five minutes, the recordings of all but the Burleske have gaps, which Testament has not attempted to fill as, for example, has been done with Josef Szigeti’s live version of Ernest Bloch’s Violin Concerto conducted by Beecham, by using parts of Szigeti’s studio recording with Charles Munch. Still, the documentary value of these recordings is so great that they are worth hearing, gaps and all.

The October 19 concert fits on one CD, but Testament has included Till on a second disc, along with two sample sides from the Don Juan recording with no processing or noise reduction. While the sound of the finished product is still significantly inferior to that of contemporary studio recordings, it is stunning to hear how much music EMI engineer Paul Baily has managed to extract from the acetates; it has long been possible to suppress transient noises like scratches and ticks, but Baily has also somehow managed to remove a great deal of distortion resulting from overloading in loud passages. Since the second CD runs only 24:23, Testament is selling the two for the price of a single disc.

Strauss had already left an extensive legacy of recordings, mostly of his own music; he made no fewer than three studio versions of Don Juan and two of Till , and a Vienna broadcast of the Sinfonia domestica from 1944 is available on Preiser. Still, it is fascinating to hear his performances of Don Juan and the Burleske a good 60 years after they were composed. Strauss the conductor takes an energetic, virile but flexible approach to Don Juan ; most present-day conductors would hesitate to use as elastic an approach to tempo as the composer did. The Burleske suffers from, as annotator Alan Sanders puts it in his excellent notes, “disagreements about the right tempo” between Strauss and pianist Blumen, an old colleague then living in Britain. The performance of the Sinfonia domestica shares many characteristics with that of Don Juan —energetic Allegros and more relaxed treatment of the slower music. Everything sounds logical, never arbitrary; and, with a reported economy of gesture, the aged Strauss gets a straightforward performance of admirable precision from the RPO musicians.

It is clear that the BBC Symphony had more trouble coping with Till ’s technical difficulties; the ensemble is quite ragged in places, and the principal horn most certainly was not named Brain! This recording also suffers from cross talk that evidently could not be removed.

These documents are flawed but priceless, showing Strauss in his eighties to be a very similar conductor to the Strauss of 20 to 30 years earlier; like the studio recordings made in 1917 and the 1920s, his approach is no-nonsense and his technique effective. The sound, while still rather crude, is miraculous given the quality of the originals. This is an indispensable release for collectors interested in Strauss, particularly as an interpreter of his own music.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Don Juan, Op. 20 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Richard Strauss
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra,  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888-1889; Germany 
Burleske for Piano and Orchestra in D minor, AV 85 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Alfred Blumen (Piano)
Conductor:  Richard Strauss
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1885-1886; Germany 
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Richard Strauss
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894-1895; Germany 
Symphonia domestica, Op. 53 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Richard Strauss
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902-1903; Germany 

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