Notes and Editorial Reviews
Till Eulenspiegel lustige Streiche
Richard Strauss, cond; Alfred Blumen (pn);
class="ARIAL12"> TESTAMENT 1441, mono (2 CDs: 100:27) Live: London 10/19/1947;
Example from untreated acetates of
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
; 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
, 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
earlier in the year, and during the festival itself made studio recordings of the final scenes of
Ariadne auf Naxos
, some shorter opera excerpts, and the tone poems
. One of the
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
existed in Britain’s National Sound Archive; recently, however, acetate discs of the entire concert and also of the
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
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
on a second disc, along with two sample sides from the
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
and two of
, and a Vienna broadcast of the
from 1944 is available on Preiser. Still, it is fascinating to hear his performances of
a good 60 years after they were composed. Strauss the conductor takes an energetic, virile but flexible approach to
; most present-day conductors would hesitate to use as elastic an approach to tempo as the composer did. The
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
shares many characteristics with that of
—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
’s technical difficulties; the ensemble is quite ragged in places, and the principal horn most certainly was
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
Works on This Recording
Don Juan, Op. 20 by Richard Strauss
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1888-1889; Germany
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