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.
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: