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  Universal (Japan) -
  Richard Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, etc. - Karajan
  Richard Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Dance of the Seven Veils (from "Salome"), Don Juan

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 12 show all

Reviews: 2

Site review by akiralx February 27, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:
The first thing to say is that, like the Decca Legends redbook CD, this disc also contains Don Juan, and includes it on the cover – so the playing time comes in at a generous 75 mins. The famous recording of Also Sprach Zarathustra dates from 1959, the remainder of the program from 1960, all recorded in the Sofiensaal.

Pretty spectacular they sound for their age, though the opening sunrise – which was used, uncredited, for the Kubrick film ‘2001’ – can’t quite compare in impact with Karajan’s wonderful 1974 DG recording (which in its current Originals incarnation exactly replicates this disc’s program).

But there are many compensations – for one, the remaining 35 minutes of the work don’t sound like an irritating afterthought, as they do on many other recordings (though neither of Karajan’s). Also the vivid presence and instrumental timbres lend amazing colour to the performance, especially to the more reflective passages – I can’t recall the exquisite string and wind playing after the opening sounding so downright eerie as here.

Comparisons to Karajan’s 1974 version reveal slightly more air around the image for DG, and at least as fine Berlin playing – not that the VPO play anything other than superbly. The Decca sound has more presence though, and the interpretation shows Karajan to be more willing to delve into the darker recesses of the work. In fact the performance is a lot earthier than the DG and sounds more unified. There are occasions where the 1974 version can sound episodic – not so here.

One slight snag which becomes apparent when listening through Stax earspeaker equipment is slight tape noise, which occasionaly pulses during the quieter closing pages. Some tape noise also afflicts the very quietest passages in the enjoyable Don Juan (a work where Karajan’s last, digital, recording is his finest) and the Dance of the Seven Veils. In the latter perhaps the oboe soloist doesn’t phrase quite as beautifully as he does in the Also Sprach Zarathustra and elsewhere on the disc.

Turning to the 1960 Till Eulenspiegel, the very slight tape hiss here reveals several very skilful edits – though only from the tiny shifts in perspective of the background noise. But this was very minor and didn’t bother me at all – and would be inaudible when played through an orthodox speaker setup rather than high-end headphones.

The only sonic flaw I would prefer not to have been present is some tape rumble on the master tape which comes over as a crunch at the work’s opening and reappears as a hum near the end of the work – though again I suspect these are only audible via headphones.

All this shouldn’t prevent Straussians from enjoying this reading of Till – because it’s pretty damned sensational, and certainly superior to Karajan’s later DG analogue recording. Until now my benchmark for this piece has been Kempe directing the Berlin PO, reissued on Testament. Excellent though that is as a performance and recording, this Decca Till equals and possibly surpasses it, especially in terms of orchestral colour.

To sum up, the Also Sprach and Till Eulenspiegel are excellent and superbly recorded, bearing in mind they were set down over 45 years ago. These alone make the SACD fully recommendable. The Don Juan and Salome’s Dance are also enjoyable but not superior to Karajan’s later readings.

Review by Daland March 2, 2006 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
After listening repeatedly to this disc I come to a somewhat different conclusion. In interpretative terms it can hardly be faulted, but sonically this SACD is one of the least successful in the Universal Japan series. This was once a stereo demonstration LP noted for its spectacular sound and wide dynamic range. But the sound, as in some other Decca recordings from that era, had something artificial about it. This is now even more apparent on SACD. The strings are smooth, but far from opulent (which is especially notable in the section "Von den Hinterweltlern" of "Zarathustra") and devoid of the silky quality one would expect, there is little sense of space and also a lack of transparency and detail. The dynamic contrasts are such that, depending on the volume level you choose, you either hear little at all or reach for your earplugs. This is most obvious in "Also sprach Zarathustra". The other pieces, recorded a bit later, are slightly better, but not really satisfactory. The best-recorded item is probably "The Dance of the Seven Veils".
This is all the more surprising as virtually all other Decca SACDs in the Universal Japan series offer first-class sound. Not always spectacular, but rich, clear and transparent. This goes especially for the piano concertos (Lupu, Ashkenazy, Backhaus) which are models of clarity and balance.

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Works: 4  

Richard Strauss - Also sprach Zarathustra, TrV 176 Op. 30
Richard Strauss - Don Juan, TrV 156 Op. 20
Richard Strauss - Salome (Tanz Der Sieben Schleier/Dance of the Seven Veils), TrV 215a
Richard Strauss - Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks), TrV 171 Op. 28