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Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra; Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegel / Nelsons, City of Birmingham Symphony

Strauss
Release Date: 05/27/2014 
Label:  Orfeo   Catalog #: 878141   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

This, the third instalment in Nelsons’ Strauss series, gives his three most popular orchestral works, and it is perhaps by design that Orfeo waited to release these three in the composer’s anniversary year. I found the disc sensational: brilliant playing, stunning recorded sound and tremendously exciting conducting.

The opening of Zarathustra is absolutely thrilling, not just due to the clarity of the sound and the brightness of the playing, but because Nelsons takes just that little bit longer over each aspect of the music, a fraction longer than you expect, which leaves the listener absolutely primed and ready for the next moment: I found myself almost panting for the climaxes when they arrived; delayed gratification is all
Read more the more eagerly sought. The Orfeo producers have done a brilliant job at capturing the sound of the entire orchestra at full pelt, but their achievement is every bit as great when, a few moments later, the violas enter with the "great longing" theme, simultaneously ardent and self-restrained. The organ is marvellously evident in the subsequent transition into the "joys and passions" section, as is the hurly-burly of the strings, and that section ends in a subterranean plunge that put me in mind of Jochanaan's cistern, as do the basses when they launch the fugue in "of science". The solo writing in the "funeral song" sounds great, and there is something wonderfully flighty, almost camp about the Dance Song which struck me as entirely in keeping with the composer’s take on Nietzsche, made all the more effective by the rest of the orchestra sparring brilliantly against the solo violin. The midnight bell, when it comes, is so thunderous as to sound apocalyptic, and it gives way to a beautiful, iridescent image of the Night Wanderer's song in which, like his opening, Nelsons holds on lovingly to various details, making the listener almost agog for the next thing to come.

The opening rush of Don Juan has all the sparkle and the flood of testosterone that you might expect, dissolving into a string theme that is radiant with extrovert ambition. This is a reading full of passion and drive. Nelsons refuses to linger where some others do but keeps the adrenaline rushing throughout. That's not to say that this is always achieved through pacing; it isn't. While his speeds are on the rapid side, he isn't afraid to slow up when necessary, such as in the second love theme — listen to that solo oboe. Throughout his reading, though, Nelsons injects an incredible sense of energy and passion into the music, so that it feels as though it is being ceaselessly propelled forward. The horn theme at the climax is stunning, leading into a frenzy of energy, and even the death scene the subtle violin figurations have a flickering, busy feel to them. That energy is entirely in keeping with the character of the titular hero, and I think it's something with which the composer would be pleased.

Till, too, has a sense of forward movement, but here it is less unstoppable ardour and more an amiable stroll in good company. The clarinets have a great time enunciating Till's "wicked goblin" theme, and in some of the jokey narrative sections the orchestra sound as though they have been thoroughly let off the leash. This is the kind of anarchy that only comes through careful control and is testimony to Nelsons' relationship with the orchestra, as well as to the way he has trained them. Every detail is brilliantly observed, down to the cheeky slurs from the trumpets on the final chords. I was also really impressed with how clearly audible everything was at the climax, including the staccato trumpets and the chattering flutes, which serves as an encomium to the good work of the Orfeo engineers.

This disc has already taken its place on my shelf alongside Karajan’s and Reiner’s landmark recordings from the 1950s, and is every bit as worthy to look them in the face. Not only is it a tribute to the composer, but it is evidence of what a crack team this orchestra has become under Nelsons. They will miss him when he goes.

-- Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894-1895; Germany 
2.
Don Juan, Op. 20 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888-1889; Germany 
3.
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1895-1896; Germany 

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