Notes and Editorial Reviews
In the hands of the major labels, the word “complete” is a dangerous weapon. Usually, the collection in question is not complete, but this one errs in the opposite direction, and all to the good: it is more than complete. Not only do you get all of the tone poems and concertos, but there’s a pile of additional stuff besides–thirteen CDs in all (as compared to Kempe’s nine). So let’s start with the odds and ends.
First off, you get all of the wind serenades (by whatever title) in reference recordings by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble under Edo de Waart. There’s also Dorati’s suite from Der Rosenkavalier plus his version of Strauss’ own Fantasie from Die Frau ohne Schatten. Herbert Blomstedt and the Gewandhaus Orchestra offer the two waltz sequences from Der Rosenkavalier, plus the Capriccio Sextet and Moonlight Music. Ashkenazy and Cleveland do very well by The Dance of the Seven Veils and Aus Italien (actually a tone poem but not usually classed with the major ones), while Karl Böhm and the Berlin Philharmonic as well as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble present the Festliches Präludium and the Festmusik der Stadt Wien, respectively.
Charles Dutoit leads the Sinfonietta de Montréal in the suite form Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, and more importantly (or at least unusually) the Dance Suite from Couperin, which is as delightful as any other neoclassical arrangement of the period (sound clip). Unfortunately, Strauss’ other Couperin arrangement, the Divertimento, is omitted even though Universal has an excellent recording from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Doubtless no one there knew that it existed. Finally, Sinopoli’s Dresden version of Josephslegende makes an imposing addition to the set–the work really deserves to stand with the big tone poems, and it’s good to have it. It’s a pity that Schlagobers still languishes in neglect; it’s a much better work that its reputation would have us believe.
Now for the big stuff. With one exception, all of Blomstedt’s San Francisco tone poem recordings are here (including Metamophosen), which is great news as they are uniformly excellent and the logical successor to Kempe’s classics versions. Several, including Also sprach Zarathustra and Death and Transfiguration, could easily serve as modern reference editions. The one exception is Till Eulenspiegel, for which we have Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra because that performance, which is very good but not brilliant, comes coupled to the Heinrich Schiff Don Quixote, which is worth it for the cellist alone. He also does the Romance for Cello and Orchestra.
Other non-Blomstedt tone poems include Dorati’s Macbeth, one of his better Strauss outings, and Previn’s Symphonia domestica featuring the Vienna Philharmonic–an impressive performance especially as it comes coupled to Gary Graffman’s reading of the neglected Parergon, which makes great sense programmatically. The remaining soloists include Jean-Yves Thibaudet sparkling in the Burleske (with Blomstedt/Leipzig), Boris Belkin in the Violin Concerto, Gordon Hunt in the Oboe Concerto, and the team of Dmitri Ashkenazy (clarinet) and Kim Walker (bassoon) in the Duett-Concertino, all with Ashkenazy senior on the podium in front of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Barry Tuckwell’s utterly confident readings of the horn concertos are well-known, and need no recommendation from me.
Last and certainly not least, Decca has licensed from Koch pianist Anna Gourari’s amazingly fine reading of the sadly neglected Panathenäenzug for piano left-hand and orchestra. In addition to the unpronounceable title (it means “All-Athenian Procession,” if that’s any help), the work is imposingly subtitled “Symphonic Etudes in Passcaglia Form,” which is exactly what it is. Lasting nearly half an hour and all but unplayable, the piece is consistently inventive, often aurally enchanting (sound clip) and typically busy. Including it here was a happy move, as the original recording (coupled to the Parergon) has been out of print and almost impossible to source for years.
You may want to call this set “The Best Non-Karajan Strauss Box That Universal Could Assemble,” for that seems to have been the idea, basically. Let’s hope that it remains available long enough for Strauss collectors to take note and buy it. It’s already confusingly listed on Amazon.com mostly as a download sold as a zillion individual tracks. You’re much better off sourcing it from Arkivmusic.com in the US, or from overseas sources where it may well be less expensive (but then there’s shipping). Good luck!
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com