Music of Richard Strauss (CD review)

Includes Don Juan, Dance of the Seven Veils, and Till Eulenspiegel. Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra. HDTT HDCD157.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was among the last of the great Romantic composers, although his music leaned a little more toward the modern age in his final years. In the late nineteenth century he was wowing audiences with his symphonic poems, compositions often based on literary and philosophical underpinnings. They were mainly large-scale works, utilizing all the resources of a full-blown symphony orchestra and then some. Occasionally, he even employed additional devices like wind machines in his orchestral works before his moving off into the operatic field.

On this remastered HDTT disc, Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra provide performances of three fairly early pieces, starting with his brief orchestral treatment of the legendary Spanish nobleman Don Juan, known for his many sexual conquests. Strauss had written a number of other works before Don Juan in 1888, but it was this one that pretty much clinched his popularity. It's brash and swaggering music, like its hero, the kind swashbuckling music that years later probably inspired composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold (The Sea Hawk) and John Williams (Star Wars).

Under Klemperer, the music for Don Juan loses a bit of something in overall bite, the electricity not quite flowing as readily as it does under several other notable Strauss conductors like Fritz Reiner (RCA), Bernard Haitink (Philips), and my personal favorite, Rudolf Kempe (EMI). By comparison, Klemperer's broader pace tends to drag. However, he makes up for any lack of energy in his usual fastidious shaping of the music, giving it a strength and solidity one finds nowhere else.

In the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Strauss's opera Salome, Klemperer is more in his element, where the conductor's spacious tempos actually work to produce a sensuous and seductive mood. It is really quite effective.

Finally, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks is here a rather leisurely affair, building slowly. Klemperer does not seem particularly interested in the young man's boisterous adventures so much as reflecting upon them. Still, the conductor adds a good deal of impish humor to the mix (he was not always the solemn gentleman of his photographs, as witness his delightful recordings of Mendelssohn, Haydn, and Schubert). So this Till eventually brims over with mood and charm, right until the title character meets his fateful end.

The back cover says that HDTT transferred these early Sixties' performances from an Angel 4-track tape. You'll remember that's what the folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) do. They find the best possible commercially available tapes (and occasionally LP's) of older stereo material and use the most demanding audiophile equipment to reproduce them for CD, DVD, or download, as you choose. In this instance, the sound of the HDCD is exceptionally smooth, with a wide dynamic range and reasonably good midrange clarity. The sonics are a little softer than in some other HDTT transfers I've heard, yet you'll find an excellent stage depth and a pleasing degree of ambient air and atmosphere. If you were expecting something bright and edgy from Klemperer in this time period, you won't find it here. This is very natural, unforced sound, quite easy on the ear.

Oddly, HDTT offer no information on the producer, engineer, or recording date for the album, nor any track timings. For the record, however, I believe the producer was Walter Legge, the engineer Douglas Larter, and the recording dates 1960-61. The timing for Don Juan is 16:57, for the "Dance of the Seven Veils" 9:00, and for Till Eulenspiegel 15:00.

For further information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa