After the initial scepticism had abated following Previn's switch from jazz and cinema to mainstream classical, critical acclaim for Previn's exciting recordings with the LSO was widespread, particularly in the UK where his affinity for British music was warmly received. Recordings of a highly accomplished RVW cycle, Walton's First Symphony and Belshazzar's Feast were highly praised, and still feature in top recommendation lists. Early on he established his Strauss credentials with a sumptuous recording of the Rosenkavalier Suite using the optional 8 horns in a selection that included a rare recording of "München", composed as a commission and confected from the waltz from "Schlagobers". Telarc recordings had always been about spectacular sound-their DMM LP's featuring the Cincinnati Symphony under Max Rudolf had been equipment challengers that every hi-fi enthusiast coveted, though they had 0cost a small fortune. The advent of CD saw Telarc soar to the top of the tree in terms of recording quality, and their practice of not compressing dynamics blew many a speaker cone so that they had to affix warnings to their booklets! Their star performer in the early years was Lorin Maazel with his Cleveland Orchestra, and I still treasure many of these recordings. Maazel moved on however, and Telarc "captured" Previn when he assumed directorship of the LAPO. Early releases were staggeringly disappointing-the conducting was so careful, with lethargic tempi and were frankly dull. Alexander Nevsky was unrecognisable as the work of Previn, and following releases fared no better. Thus, when Telarc announced a real coup in retaining the VPO to record Strauss I was genuinely excited-when I saw that it was with Previn my heart sank. Telarc engaged the redoubtable James Mallinson to produce, and Jack Renner (Mr. Telarc) was the engineer when the forces came together in 1987. Reports from the sessions advised that orchestra members had said that this was the best recording technically that had ever been made in the Musikverein, and should banish forever the old saw about it being a difficult venue. I feared for the performance though.
Strauss had early on disavowed the section headings in Also Sprach Zarathustra, stating that the piece was in no way intended to be programmatic, and that it was purely an expression of his inspiration drawn from the literary work. Of course, Strauss had no truck with the main underlying theme of Nietsche's work, that man had finally been set free from the need to believe in a personalised God, could shed all the artificial taboos imposed by organised religion and could revel in the glories of nature and the universe unfettered by this baggage. Strauss extracted the joy of nature, the human spirit, philosophy, love and the mystery of life itself and distilled into a great joyous tone poem encompassing all that is great about mankind and the nature in which he dwells-and that is exactly what we get from Previn. No other recording captures, the drama, exuberance, rejoicing, passion and mystery of the piece as this one, helped in no small measure by a recording that dazzles even today.Under Previn, this piece emerges as as a joyous , ebullient and thoroughly good natured piece with the darker more contemplative sections beautifully crafted but not allowed to slow down the main thrust. From the famous opening, where the organ is recorded in the Musikverein in its true balance, through to the shimmering closing pages, the radiance of the "dirty" string tone, the ripeness of the rich brass is caught as never before, with an incredibly wide dynamic range and great transparency. The solo violin of Gerhart Hetzel, killed so tragically the following year, is wonderfully idiomatic and schmaltzy, and the Nacthwanderlied is overwhelming in its impact.
When great recordings of this work are listed, Reiner and Karajan are invariably mentioned-and rightly so-and I include Tennstedt and Maazel also-but make no mistake this recording MUST be included.
To add to its attraction, there is as fine a Tod und Verklarung as could be imagined! A word of warning-after the beautiful and subdued opening, the entry of the timps and the full orchestra will make you jump out of your seat, if you're not still standing applauding. Previn judges the juxtaposition of frenzy and passion in the struggle against the inevitable with the sublime reconciliation, release and transfiguration to perfection, and the playing and recording are again of the highest possible quality, and this performance stands on its own merits alongside Karajan, Reiner and Sinopoli live the Dresden Staatskapelle.
When the great recordings of these works are mentioned, this recording invariably slips under the radar, but it is a triumph in both artistic and technical terms and deserves to be a top recommendation. Thankfully, my concerns about Previn in this instance were unfounded, though later recordings in the series displayed some of the old staid and careful approach. I paid some £13 for it in 1988 on its release, and I note that it is now cheaper-I urge all lovers of these works to snap it up while they can. As a happy a visit to an old friend as I can recall! 10 Stars . Stewart Crowe.
I owned this recording for years and admired it. Then, for some reason I cannot recall, I gave it away - really quite dumb because the previous reviewer's encomium for its sonic and artistic merits convinced me that I needed to re-acquire it. Fortunately, it remains available very cheaply and constitutes one of the best Straus bargains on the market, combining two stunning and favourite tone poems in incandescent performances.
Previn was not by any means always this inspired but you have to give him credit here. I won't go over old ground detailing the glories but plenty of folk take this one with them to the audio store if they are testing new equipment. There are other notable recordings of "Also Sprach" by Karajan, Mehta and Maazel but the "Tod und Verklärung" here might possibly be the best of all versions. What can go wrong with superlative engineering, showing the Musikverein to be a perfectly amenable venue when properly miked, and the VPO on their most smooth, heavenly and honeyed form? The strings are a dream and the woodwind have special warmth.
Previn's way with both pieces is more reflective than some, going for a kind of slow-burn intensity and rapt concentration that just build inexorably, allowing you to savour the textures and colours of this rich score without losing tension. Yep; this was his finest hour. Buy it and don't be stupid enough to do what I did the first time.
on 10 June 2013
R Strauss, Previn, Vienna PO and Telarc: big names with big expectations. Unfortunately, while the sound is quite good, Also Sprach just doesn't have the energy you find in say, Karl Bohm or Karajan on DG. Even the old recordings of Staatskapelle Dresden under Kempe are more lively and energetic than this performance.