Notes and Editorial Reviews
Till Eulenspiegel. Tod und Verklärung.
Nos. 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 19, 21, 1.
Op. 46/1, 3, 8; Op. 72/10, 9
Fritz Reiner, cond; Vienna PO
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 5006 (2 CDs: 83:49)
The Reiner/Vienna Philharmonic collaborations were a result of a temporary
alliance between RCA Victor and Decca/London during the mid 1950s that lasted into the early 1960s. The juicy sonority given the two Strauss tone poems is probably attributable to the expertise of the producer, John Culshaw, who was very experienced at recording this orchestra.
Till Eulenspiegel, Tod und Verklärung,
were not new to the Reiner discography. He had recorded the exact same eight
with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in the 1940s and the two Strauss tone poems, an RCA product of the early 1950s, were recorded with the “RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra.” I never heard the Pittsburgh
but I once owned the LP of the Strauss tone poems and can testify that they were done with this conductor’s usual expertise. Actually, there are few
differences between the various recordings of
that I’ve heard—Strauss has already done 95 percent of the work; the trickiness is built-in and technical competence is all that is necessary to bring the piece off. Given this conductor and this orchestra, the performance moves along like the proverbial well-oiled machine. There’s still room for nuance and, as a general rule, I believe that, up to a point, the slower the performance, the more the music’s witty touches are thrown into strong relief. Years ago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra issued a batch of Reiner recordings taken from radio and TV broadcasts, one of which was a 1958
that has more delicacy and subtlety than the Vienna one. It’s also a shade slower. I assume that Reiner and/or RCA Victor were satisfied with the Vienna recordings since he never recorded either of the tone poems with his own orchestra despite recording almost every other significant Strauss orchestral work with the Chicago Symphony (including two
s and two
Also sprach Zarathustra
While he lay on his deathbed, Strauss told his daughter-in-law that dying was just as he had portrayed it in
Tod und Verklärung
. As one who is no enthusiast for this particular piece, I certainly hope not. When I review a recording, I try to obtain several other recordings and listen to them for the sake of context. It helps, of course, to have a big CD/LP collection and a good library system. That is what I did with
but the prospect of auditioning a half-dozen-or-so
Tod und Verklärung
s was so unappealing that I simply listened to Reiner/Vienna twice, matched it against my memories of other recordings, and that was it. How could it fail, anyway, with a great orchestra that could probably play the piece in its sleep, led by an acknowledged expert in the Strauss repertory? It doesn’t. If there are better performance/recordings out there, I haven’t heard them.
Originally written for piano four-hands, the 21
were eventually orchestrated by various arrangers, including Antonin Dvo?ák. Brahms only orchestrated numbers 1, 3, and 10. Of these, Reiner performs only No. 1. The other seven on this disc are heard in orchestrations by Dvo?ák, Andreas Hallén (a Swedish composer, 1846-1925) and Albert Parlow (a German composer, once music director of the Prussian army, 1822-1888). Reiner’s performances sometimes strike me as mannered, “fast” music, rushed and “slow” music, dragged. On the other hand, his
seem to me to be more sympathetic performances. Like the 1956 recordings of the Strauss pieces, the
were recorded in the Sofiensaal five years later, in 1960. This time, the producer was Erik Smith, with similar results. Eighty-three-plus minutes are short measure for two CDs but, other than the Verdi Requiem, this seems to be all that Reiner did for Decca/London.
FANFARE: James Miller
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