On balance, the best parts of David Zinman's super-budget Strauss cycle from Zurich rank as high points in his recorded output. Strauss's overstuffed orchestrations were made to be cleaned up and clearly articulated, which Zinman is good at. On disc the abundance of deluxe orchestras turning this music into sleek machinery for the Grand Prix gets tiring, so Zinman's "airy coolness," as the Gramophone called it, is welcome. From 2003 comes this late installment in the cycle, and much will depend on how you react to the two soloists in Don Quixote.
Strauss didn't intend this score to be what it now is, a cello concerto to serve as a vehicle for touring virtuosos. His intention was to draw the cello and viola soloists from the orchestra, and the music comes off best that way, because full scope is given for Strauss's marvelously inventive orchestral writing. Like everyone else, I can't resist when a star like Du Pre or Rostropovich steps in as the Don, but having the first-desk players of the Vienna Phil. (as I once heard in concert) transforms the whole balance, for the better.
Yet the Zurich Tonhalle orchestra isn't the Vienna Phil., and the cello and viola as recorde here are rather thin in tone; they have also been balanced to blend in with the orchestra rather than pulled out to sit in the limelight. On musical grounds, however, I have no complaints. Zinman offers a quick-witted reading, often faster than the norm, with an emphasis on color and urgency. His two soloists fall into line, and the result is exciting. To be candid, I was sick of sentimentalized Don Quixotes and found myself waking up during this performance. the two fillers are well done but do not rank as anything but minor sidelights. It's the Don that one comes for, and in this case the experience is very rewarding.