R. Strauss: Also sprach Zarathushtra (CD review)

Also, Rosenkavalier Suite; Don Juan. Lorin Maazel, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. RCA 09026-68225-2RE.

This disc is one of four RCA releases of orchestral works by German composer and conductor Richard Strauss (1864-1949) conducted by the late Lorin Maazel. RCA recorded the discs between 1995 and 1998, and they have made them available as separate CD's or in a boxed set. Maazel presents the pieces in his usual straightforward manner, always letting the music speak for itself. In this regard he is in the company of Bernard Haitink and Rudolf Kempe (as opposed to Herbert von Karajan and Georg Solti, who impart more of their own personality to the interpretations). However, being in the company of someone is not to say they are equals. Haitink and Kempe seem to me more magisterial, more authoritative, more commanding. What's more, as fine as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra plays, they cannot quite match the glorious richness of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, or the Staatskapelle Dresden.

Anyway, I found the accompanying Rosenkavalier Suite most attractive of all and the Don Juan tone poem adequate, if slightly underpowered. Maazel's Zarathushtra, though, seemed a little wanting in animation. It appears to me that as Strauss was one of the last of the great Romantics, his works ought to be played with a bit more fervor. Still, if more foursquare playing is your bent, Maazel is your man.

Lorin Maazel
RCA recorded the sound at Herkulessaal Der M√ľnchner Residenz, Munich, Germany in February 1995. They did so in Dolby Pro Logic, and the best one can say for it is that it doesn't interfere much with regular two-channel stereo playback. I did find my ears unaccountably plugging up on occasion, but I cannot attest to its being a result of anything in the playback.

By and large, the sound is wide and full, somewhat congested in loudest passages and spotlighted like mad. Instruments will suddenly loom up out of nowhere, which makes for a striking effect but is not too realistic. I suspect that as more and more people buy surround-sound systems, which is obviously the direction the industry has been heading for quite some time, we will see more and more recordings made expressly for the medium. Of course, most people are buying surround sound to enhance their movie-watching experience, not necessarily to listen to music. As a number of readers indicated to me some years ago, not many of them sit down in the sweet spot to listen only to music for longer than a few minutes. So I'm not sure what effect all of this will have on the future of audiophile recordings.

For those of us who still treasure good, old-fashioned two-channel stereo, however, there is more reason than ever to appreciate the bargain and mid-price reissues that most companies continue to produce. In the matter of Richard Strauss, for instance, one can find the composer's complete orchestral music available on three sets of discs from Rudoph Kempe (EMI), and in bits and pieces on discs from Fritz Reiner (RCA) and Bernard Haitink (Philips), none of which will set you back too many coins.


To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click below:

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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.

Contact Information

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