Strauss sits alongside Mahler as a leading conductor – as well as composer - of his age, winning plaudits and support even before the age of 20 from contemporaneous luminaries such as Hans von Bülow. In fact between them, Mahler and Strauss controlled the two most powerful opera houses in the world in their mid-Thirties, with Strauss in Berlin and Mahler in Vienna.
Strauss’s ‘Fantastic variations on a theme of knightly character’, as Don Quixote is subtitled, is one of the composer’s most popular tone poems, principally because of the beautifully drawn central characters of the Don (performed by a solo cellist) and Sancho Panza (viola). These roles are luxuriously cast in this new recording, being taken by Hyperion artists Alban Gerhardt and Lawrence Power. The merry tale of Till Eulenspiegel completes this release.
Lorin Maazel usually is a very good Strauss conductor, and he's at his best in these live recordings. He launches Don Juan with considerable gusto, and only the quiet passage before the famous horn theme sounds as if it could move a bit more purposefully forward. The orchestra plays extremely well, as it does in Death and Transfiguration, an interpretation full of excitement and (at the end) exaltation, and without a trace of the affectation that sometimes mars Maazel's work. The truth is, he has such a fine podium technique that it sometimes seems he does things because he can, rather than because he should–but not here. This performance, and the smoldering, sultry, deliciously trashy Salomé's Dance, are the disc's highlights. The Rosenkavalier Suite closes the program in ebullient fashion, though the music itself isn't quite so much fun as the other items on the program. The live sonics are good, a touch raw at the climaxes, but very acceptable. I do wish, though, that the applause had been edited out. Recommended.
The other major orchestral release here features the Richard Strauss recordings conducted for Sony Classical by Zubin Mehta.
Mstislav Rostropovich did more for the advancement of the cello than probably any other artist since Pablo Casals. Even after his sad passing in 2007 at the age of 80, is musical influence is felt not only in the cello community, but among orchestral musicians as well. This Deutsche Grammophon DVD is among the many tributes to Rostropovich that have surfaced over the short time since his passing. It features the Schumann Concerto and Bloch's Schelomo with Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France and Strauss' Don Quixote with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. All of these performances are given their first DVD release here. Schumann and Bloch are given intense, riveting performances by Rostropovich and orchestra alike. Any other cellist who played with as much force and aggression would be accused of overplaying, but with Rostropovich the intensity and conviction of his playing are what make the entire performance.