Karajan was almost obsessed with R.Strauss Symphonic Poems trying ever to achieve higher level of perfection both artistically and technically (including recording technology). He recorded Don Quixote 4 times, Til Eulenspiegel 6 times, Tod und Verklarung 3 times, Metamorphosen 3 times and so on, excluding many unofficail live recordings.
Also sprach Zarathustra was recorded three times officially; Decca, DG 1973 and this digital version which is grandest and best recorded of all. As to which one is best, opinions are divided depending on personal tastes for interpretation and sound quality. I have an impression that Karajan was more interested in representing the richness and intricacy of Strauss' orchestration with the last digital version, while other two readings are more or less straightforward. Only weakness of the digital version is the opening which is not as spectacular as the other two.
on 23 January 2015
"Why should the Devil have all the good music?" and much the same could be said of this combo - infernal in the eyes of some - and their music-making which is invariably stupendous in Strauss. 1983 was the year of living dangerously at the Philharmonie. Both performances were recorded in February of that year. This is another victory for the Gold remastering of `93; its bass-line is more subterranean than the Underworld.
Considered on its own terms and indeed, 99% of discography, this performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra is a world-beater. Where does one start? The luxuriance of tone? The cosmic scale of the conception? Or perhaps its mysticism and gnosis? Even so, it has to compete with the superhuman 1974 account from the same forces. In relative terms, this latter performance does not incarnate the same degree of volatility, desperation and danger. The shallowness of the timpani in the opening moment, compared with the Thor-like detonations of '74, also hurts.
Fabulous though it be, this Don Juan is less viscerally exciting than its counterpart (likewise from the early Seventies). Again, the gap could be measured in nanometres. Nevertheless, come the climax at 15'15"ff, who could not swim the Hellespont like Byron or stride onto the set of Cleopatra to smite the Queen of Blue Eyes with a mere glance?
Is there a reflection here of the wider conflict? That's hard to say. There's not a lot wrong. The Berliners of the time play within their own fabulous parameters and comfortably so. Perhaps the (relative) failures mentioned above represent a sullenness on their part towards the sacred monster and his stratagems. Lie back and think of Deutsche Grammophon!
Recommended, but not in preference to '74.
on 2 January 2015
Many years ago a friend told me that the recording quality on Deutsche Grammophon productions was so good you could hear the sound engineers talking in the studio. I think Karajan would have been appalled to hear this, as his aim was that only the music should be heard and that the medium should be silent. He has succeeded on this digital recording of Strauss's great tone poem. Perhaps too well, as these early digital recordings certainly lack some of the ambience and warmth of the analogue format. I would agree that the Prelude on this version is perhaps not quite as spectacular as Karajan's earlier version with the Vienna Philharmonic released on Decca, and it seems to me that the tolling of the midnight bell, while distinct, is rather flat and somewhat unmusical. A great interpretation nonetheless.
The organ chord is sustained for a full twenty seconds at the start of this account of Strauss's masterpiece, `Also Sprach Zarathustra'. The room vibrates as the orchestra blazes. Is this not one of the greatest openings of this piece ever? Has any other conductor done better?
The strings in the following `Of the Backworldsmen' are tender and beautiful with a lovely expressive sound. The massed strings in `Also Sprach Zarathustra' can prove unwieldy as they progress on their journey, cutting huge swathes across the tonal landscape, but Karajan keeps them firmly under control.
The organ underpinning the end of "Of the Great Longing" witnesses a marvellous descent into the fiery "Of Joys and Passions". Meanwhile, the fortissimo repeat of the three-note opening phrase in the midst of "The Convalescent" is full of assured terror. The orchestral support to the `Superman' theme as we edge towards the end of this section is glittering and bright in its host of birdcalls and joyous cries.
The waltz of the Superman is slow and stately on the solo violin, but the true test - for me - of the worth of a conductor's mettle in this piece is the tolling of the midnight bell. Here, Karajan comes out trumps, the bell ringing out menacingly supreme above the orchestra, as it should.
This performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra is not perfect. For example, there are odd stray mistimings, but the five stars are still nevertheless fully justified: one more star than his 1973 version. All the way to the final short chords on the basses, Karajan brings out the richness and lushness of the score. The sound is superb with no element of distortion.
As for `Don Juan', there is the same marvellous sound for this earlier, shorter but less accomplished score by one this giant of orchestral composers.
on 19 March 2011
Like many others I had not heard this wonderful piece of music all the way through, I have to say I am impressed,(true blue music buffs may say I am easily pleased). I was raised on Folk & Soft Rock and came to classical music late in life, I have a few vinyl recordings by Von Karajan and thought I would see what was available on CD, seeing as he was there at the outset, Richard Strauss Alpine Symphony being the first (my version of which is not the gold series but an original 1981 pressing).This recording of 'Also Sprach.' blew me away, I chucked it in the CD player and let the whole thing just wash over me, to my untrained ear there is nothing to fault this record, if you never buy another classical CD I would say buy this!!!