Richard Strauss: Don Quixote (CD review)

Also, Romance for cello and orchestra. Alexander Rudin, cello; Gerhard Markson, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Naxos 8.554175.

I'm sure I don't have to remind any fan of German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) that the tone poem Don Quixote is about Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's famous old-timer who fancies himself a knight of high ideals, with a cello performing the knight's part and a viola his sidekick, Sancho Panza. Nor that the work contains ten variations, mostly representing Quixote's adventures, plus an introduction and an epilogue finale. Strauss composed Don Quixote in 1896, just a couple of years after Also Sprach Zarathustra, and both tone poems have enjoyed enormous popularity ever since.

Under the guidance of Maestro Gerhard Markson, with Alexander Rudin the cellist, the piece comes up pretty well, if perhaps with a bit of its color glazed over in a kind of homogenized way compared to other famous recordings. The two discs I had on hand for comparison were Mstislav Rostropovich, cello, with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI) and Paul Tortelier, cello, with Rudolf Kempe and the Staatskapelle Dresden (EMI). Both competing performances appear a little more animated to me, more heartfelt, and, ultimately, more entertaining.

Alexander Rudin
This is not to suggest, however, that we should not welcome another interpretation like Rudin and Markson's, especially when the end result is nonetheless valid. The Rudin/Markson combo provides us with a suitably comfortable old Don, one who is at his feeble leisure, one who appears weaker and slower, maybe more apt to fall asleep under one of his windmills, than some of the rival versions offer.

I found the Naxos sound, issued in 2000, also commendable for its smooth reliability. It is fairly natural, and I thought it even well imaged until the bass drum reached out and bit me on the toe. Still, most of it makes for comfortable listening.

The disc's fill-up is the short Romance for cello and orchestra, which Strauss wrote about fourteen years earlier than Quixote. Although it, too, sounds adequately performed, one must remember that for about the same mid price, one can buy the aforementioned Rostropovich rendering on a remastered EMI disc, which not only has more sonic detail but the advantage of a master cellist, the sonority and range of one of the world's great orchestras, and Schumann's Cello Concerto as a companion. Now that I think about it further, that is definitely quite a bargain, as is the Tortelier/Kempe album with Don Juan and The Dance of the Seven Veils thrown in for good measure. But you probably already knew that.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa