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R. Strauss: The Great Operas Box set

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Product details

  • Conductor: Herbert von Karajan, Rudolf Kempe, Wolfgang Sawallisch
  • Composer: Richard Strauss
  • Audio CD (18 Nov. 2013)
  • Number of Discs: 22
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: PLG UK Classics
  • ASIN: B00FM60U8E
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 73,075 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Ultrarunner TOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Nov. 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Richard Strauss was born on the 11th June 1864 and so next year is his 150th birthday,but Warner have released the set now before Christmas, a very shrewd business move.(Details of operas below).However, the Strauss opera's were recorded between 1956 and 1990 and are all ex EMI,that is why Arabella is missing,they never recorded it. I checked my vast classical book library. Decca recorded Arabella twice,DGG once and Orfeo once, just in case you wondered. But what is this box set like? I can honestly swear it is well worth obtaining. Well you would write that,you might think. The 10 opera set has all the operas you would expect, but also operas like Die Schweigsame Frau(silent woman), Friedenstag and Intermezzo with marvellous performances.I had hoped they would come on Bluray. The only other ones missing is the agyptische Helena, once recorded by Decca, conducted by Dorati. Die Liebe der Danae is now on bluray.I own it.

The cardboard box is tough. The lid when opened lies flat, so you can place CDs you wish to play. The front has a picture of the composer when young, with Strauss the great operas,and the operas name in orange. The spine and back are a light lemony green. The spine has Strauss the great Operas written in Orange. The back of the box has the CD numbers and the names of the Operas in the box. Exactly,the same for the Sleeves. The back has the CD number, plus the operas name, track numbers and arias to be sung, nothing else. The Discs are black with CD number and opera. If it is a one Act opera and requires two discs,on the front of the sleeve is beginning and conclusion. If three acts,each Act is on one disc. The booklet has no synopsis, nor translations, nor a CD with that information on it, like Decca's complete Wagner's operas set which does have this CD.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Stone on 18 Aug. 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This was an interesting purchase: 10 of Strauss's 15 operas, all but one a studio recording, all with fine conductors including 5 by Sawallisch. In three cases the recordings are the only studios recordings ever made of those operas (Intermezzo, Die Schweigesame Frau, Daphne). A deficiency is that no texts are synopses are provided, only a brief historical note by Stephen Jay-Taylor.

I supplemented it by listening to some other recordings in order to survey Strauss's operatic opus and it perhaps has some advantages over DG's subsequently issued complete edition. What struck me about the total experience was the extent to which within a certain idiom Strauss's invention never flags. It is mostly the interest or attractiveness of the dramatic subject matter (and a certain amount of historic accident) that has determined whether the opera survives in the repertory, not really the quality of the music which continues to be impressive. Also, for nearly three decades after the compostion of the Alpine Symphony (1915) Strauss seemed to need the stimulus of an operatic text to compose at all. Perhaps surprising though that Die Frau ohne Schatten, with its abstruse subject matter, has faired so much better historically than Die Aegyptishe Helena or Die Liebe der Danae (neither of which incidentally makes it into this set). More surprisingly Arabella is not represented, there being no version in the Warner-EMI back catalogue.

Here are some notes on the recordings.

1 Salome. Superb recording by Karajan c. 1978 who maintains the tension impeccably - the resonant acoustic has been controversial - but causes me no problems. Perhaps also the best of Hildegard Behrens and Jose van Dam.
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Amazon.com: 1 review
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
EMI's Fine Strauss...at Bargain Price 7 April 2014
By Robert J. Sachek - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Over the years EMI's huge presence in the classical recording field has brought many treasures for opera buffs to savor at home, and it's with gratitude that I welcome this set from Warner, who bought out controlling interest in EMI's vast classical catalog some months ago. Here we have 10 of Strauss' 15 scores including all of the important scores, save ARABELLA. EMI licensed an ARABELLA from Orfeo back in the '80's and collectors will remember it's appearance on Angel LP's here in the USA. By the time CD's appeared, Orfeo issued the set themselves.

What we do have in this box is a generally fine collection of recordings. I don't think most listeners will have major problems with any of them (save, of course, a preference for Soprano A over Soprano B in other recordings) and several would be clear "first choices" in their own right.

Beginning in chronological order with SALOME, I am disappointed to start on a less than enthusiastic note, but I have never really liked this Karajan recording. Much of the problem lies with the sound, which in itself is rather bizarre in that it was done in Decca's fine Sofiensaal with Decca engineers and the Solti from some 16 years earlier sounds far better. There is a bright top to this recording, but, unaccountably, for the most part the sound is rather opaque, a sort of cloudy "wash" and I think some artificial reverb was added. Balances are poor as well with The Baptist often sounding from his cistern louder than some principals onstage. At this early point in Behrens' international career, it would have been good to have a document of her singing, but she suffers worst from the sound. Often she's reduced to a whisper or just plain off-mike. Karajan's idea? The final scene has her swimming in that huge sonic soup I mentioned earlier, and while the voice does ride over the orchestra at climaxes, I get the distinct impression that Herr von K. would have been happy with the orchestra alone. I know much of the text of SALOME by heart, and I just couldn't understand much of what Behrens was singing. van Dam is his usual, lovely-voiced self with not too much emotion to "spoil" things. Mr. and Mrs. Herod too have lovely, young sounding voices which I think is exactly the opposite of what Strauss had in mind. This SALOME also gets off to a slow start due to Karajan's holding the music back. This is a balmy, moonlit night on the Mediterranean in Karajan's hands. Remember, we're not 2 minutes into the score when the Page sings "something terrible is going to happen!" Indeed, we have a suicide, beheading and an assassination coming. Little of that oppressiveness comes through in this recording. Is it a BAD recording? No, I don't think so, as there's more than enough here to get you hooked on one of Strauss' greatest masterpieces. But you can find better elsewhere.

There can be few reservations over the Sawallisch ELEKTRA, however. While Marton's voice was headed for problems in the early '90's, we hear almost none of that in this set. Yes, the voice begins to spread a bit in her second scene with Chrysothemis ("Du! Du! denn du bist stark!") but by and large this is a fine accomplishment. I undestand this recording followed a run at Covent Garden which was a huge success for Marton. That carries over into this fine recording. The rest of the cast is very strong indeed with Studer perhaps the best Chrysothemis on records and strong contributions from both Lipovsek and Weikl. Also superb support from Sawallisch and the balance between voices and orchestra is nearly ideal. While this set may not be at the same white-hot intensity of the Solti, it's still a fine achievement.

While it looks as if I've turned my back on Karajan's ROSENKAVALIER, I still go back to it often, and with much love and, yes, emotion. If in the end I now prefer Solti and Crespin that doesn't negate this classic set. Yes, there are cuts to deal with. Edelmann may sound TOO oafish at times, and Stich-Randall maybe not the most ethereal of Sophies. In fact, Streich was Karajan's first choice, but she was DG property and promised to Boehm. No one in his right mind would argue that this ROSENKAVALIER isn't a classic. It defines that term as few other recordings can and have.

Kempe's ARIADNE is another recording many consider "tops." But there have been many other truly fine recordings of this enchanting score as well. Rysanek, Price and Norman have all brought richer voices to the role of Ariadne. But Janowitz is really lovely. Geszty is a tad shrill of a Zerbinetta and lacks the sheer elan of a Gruberova. King is but one of many fine tenors to have given us a splendid Bacchus. I'm less happy with both the Composer and the Music Master in this set, but Kempe was a fine Straussian and it shows.

Were this Sawallisch FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN the only one available, I think we'd be reasonably satisfied. Sawallisch also had fine credentials as a Strauss interpreter. Often he favored slightly quicker tempos than other conductors, and he knew these scores well as or better than anyone. Above all, in this set I treasure Studer's Empress. Maybe the finest on recordings. This was not one of Rene Kollo's best efforts, often sounding dry and strained on top. The Emperor is not a long role, but it is demanding. I like Jess Thomas on the old VERY flawed Keilberth set on DG. You might be surprised that the longest role in DIE FRAU is actually that of The Nurse (if the score isn't cut!) Schwarz here is in fine voice, but where is the diabolical character in the role? That's lost on Schwarz and we definitely miss out. Moedl and Hoengen were great at this, even if as sheer singing the results could be pretty dire. Muff leaves a rather neutral impression, well sung, but rather lacking in character. Vinzing is most perplexing in this cast. For once we have a Dyer's Wife who isn't a shrill termagant, chewing up the scenery. This is decidedly an unhappy woman, still young but disillusioned. Not all will like her take on this role. Was the voice not merely up to some of the writing? I'm not certain, but her Act 3 is very touching. The whole of this DIE FRAU I think plays better than the sum of its parts.

EMI deserve our highest thanks for this INTERMEZZO and SCHWEIGSAME FRAU. No, I don't think either is great Strauss, but both recordings are complete and performed very well indeed. The much-loved, late, lamented Slovak soprano Lucia Popp makes of Frau Storch a truly virtuoso role. She can be a tad hectoring, even manic at times. Listen if you can to Hanny Steffek in the live Keilberth set. A very different approach, but you should be warned that she's about the only thing in that set worth hearing! While Boehm has a very fine cast for his SCHWEIGSAME FRAU, the score is cut in his DG set and is in mono. I don't think there's much to complain about with this EMI effort under Janowski. If you're going to get to know what this score is all about, I feel sure it will be though this EMI set.

I won't spend much time on FRIEDENSTAG. Many consider it Strauss' weakest score. It's certainly his shortest. While I would prefer the Sinopoli set on DG, this recording, done live, by Sawallisch isn't a bad one. I may actually prefer Weikl in this recording. But Sinopoli has Voigt who I would prefer over the late Sabine Hass in this EMI recording. Not a lot to choose from either way, really.

Haitink's DAPHNE in this box has given me as much pleasure as the old Boehm DG set. It would be impossible for me to choose between the two, and I take both off the shelf regularly. I do like Popp better than Gueden, and while Boehm has Wunderlich, King and Schoeffler, Haitink has Schreier, Goldberg and Moll, not exactly a shoddy lineup. Haitink plays the score intact, Boehm does not and Haitink also has very fine studio sound. It's a toss-up with DAPHNE.

CAPRICCIO was a relatively new opera way back when this EMI recording was made in 1957. Critically, at the time at least, CAPRICCIO was not well thought-of. I have uncovered some really scathing critiques. What EMI had on its roster of singers at the time was nothing short of miraculous, so Walter Legge thought he'd put Sawallisch and many of these truly great voices together and give CAPRICCIO it's best chance (and espcially since Mrs. Legge was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf). This recording has never been surpassed. And although it's in mono (Legge was not a great believer in stereo!) Strauss' writing here isn't what you find in SALOME or DIE FRAU and to me it's just fine. Just as an aside, I get a lot of pleasure from the San Francisco video (Te Kanawa, Troyanos, etc.)

This box right now is going for $50 on AMAZON and that's little more that $2 per CD which is a steal. There is SO much of value here and really little that's objectionable. Why 4 stars? Well, I'd place the Solti set (only 6 operas) in the 5-star category alone. Those readings are pretty sensational, and I suppose one must make a distinction betweer the "superlative" and the very good. I've done my best in sharing a lifetime passion for Strauss (and Wagner) on AMAZON and I hope others can put it to good use. If you're only beginning your journey with Strauss, I'd stick with the Solti as a first choice. Others might want this EMI set and purchase Solti's ARABELLA separately. At present, the new DG box is $170, and has many recordings which I would not recommend as first choice. Now, BACK TO LISTENING!
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