Magazine article Gramophone

Strauss by Strauss & Krauss: Richard Osborne on Two Historic 150th Anniversary Sets-Richard Strauss as Conductor and Strauss Conducted by One of His Most Loyal Champions

Magazine article Gramophone

Strauss by Strauss & Krauss: Richard Osborne on Two Historic 150th Anniversary Sets-Richard Strauss as Conductor and Strauss Conducted by One of His Most Loyal Champions

Article excerpt

'Krauss for Strauss' used to be the watchword .and after hearing these superbly characterised Strauss recordings which Clemens Krauss made with the Vienna Philharmonic for Decca in 1950-53 one is reminded why.

The son of a dancer turned singer who was got with child by an imperial grandee, Clemens Krauss grew up in Vienna in the years immediately preceding the First World War. Viennese culture and Viennese style oozed from his every pore. In 1922 Strauss invited him to the State Opera; seven years later he effected Krauss's installation as Director. Few composer-conductor relationships have been so close. The two men may have seemed poles apart temperamentally; yet, as these anniversary sets make clear, time and circumstance played their part.

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Krauss's Decca recordings were doubly blessed: first by the Vienna Philharmonic, a group of players Strauss himself had known and loved above all others; second by Decca's pioneering ffrr ('full frequency range recording') which had come fully into its own at the start of the LP era. The June 1950 recordings of Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel are astonishing for the depth and beauty of the sound. Only when the high strings play tutti and fortissimo can the sound seem a touch scrawny and lacking in body.

Strauss had been 62 when electrical recording appeared in 1926. Initially Polydor used the problematic Brunswick system. They also favoured Berlin's less expensive (and less good) State Opera Orchestra. (Interestingly, it is the Berlin Philharmonic which plays on Strauss's first 'hit single', his 1928 recording of Salome's Dance.) Down the years, no one has been able to do much to improve these recordings technically.

In London once Strauss spent an hour rehearsing three of his own tone-poems and the remaining five hours on Mozart's Symphony No 40. It wasn't that he was bored with his own music; more that, by the 1920s, he was a long way away from its primal impulses. The calm overview he provided could be spellbinding; and in a piece such as the inexhaustibly wonderful Don Quixote there are a host of measurable insights to be gleaned. (More from the 1933 studio recording with Mainardi than from the 1941 Munich performance which is also here. …

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