Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Mahler: Totenfeier - Jurowski
PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 597
Classical - Orchestral
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra
Mahler: Totenfeier, Sinfonisches Präludium für Orchester
Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)
Vladimir Jurowski and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin excel in these new recordings of Richard Strauss’s electrifying Also Sprach Zarathustra and Mahler’s Totenfeier, to coincide with the Russian maestro taking up office as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the orchestra.
Strauss’s bold and passionate tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra is a riveting work, famous for its startlingly atmospheric opening. With a thrilling and florid orchestral score, it’s a work which Jurowski observes “…launches the whole idea of 20th century music. Written in the 19th century, this is one of those pieces which announces the new century to come."
It is paired with Mahler’s no less gripping Totenfeier which is an early version of the first movement of his Symphony No 2 "Resurrection". "I find very interesting to compare [the two versions] …", writes Jurowski, “In many ways, the Totenfeier is less accomplished , but far more honest and genuine." Juxtaposing the Strauss and Mahler works in this way, Jurowski notes “Zarathustra is all about technical brilliance and accomplishment … in the Mahler the surfaces are much less polished, so there is much more aspiration to go into the depth of things."
Jurowski is one of today’s most sought-after conductors, widely praised for his adventurousness and incisive musicianship. He has made several critically acclaimed recordings for PENTATONE, including works by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. For his recording with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin of Schnittke’s Symphony No 3, BBC Music Magazine opined "Vladimir Jurowski … delivers an absolutely stunning account that vividly captures the work’s drama and emotional intensity.”
The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin is one of the leading orchestras in Berlin. Under former artistic director and chief conductor Marek Janowski, it has made numerous classic recordings with us, including a critically acclaimed cycle of 10 Wagner operas.
Review by Graham Williams - September 30, 2017
Those familiar with his work with the London Philharmonic Orchestra will know that Vladimir Jurowski is one of the most exciting and gifted conductors of his generation, so his new appointment as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the RSO Berlin is a cause for celebration.
The possibility of a really outstanding performance and recording of Strauss's 'Also sprach Zarathustra' in multi-channel sound from Pentatone was also an enticing prospect, but unfortunately my high expectations for this release were not met. The famous opening 'Einleitung' should be sonorous and immediately arresting, but here it makes little impact. The timpani sound boomy and cavernous while the Seifert organ – dubbed on from the St. Matthias Kirche, Berlin-Schöneberg – sounds unimpressive and decidedly lacking in weight in the lower frequencies.
As the work proceeds Jurowski elicits some luscious string sounds from his fine orchestra and the fairly closely miked recording allows much detail in the orchestration to be heard. The fugal 'Von der Wissenschaft' section is especially clearly articulated by the double basses – not always the case, but again the lack of heft from the organ at the climax of this section is disappointing. 'Das 'Tanzlied' benefits from the deft playing of concertmaster Rainer Walters and though at times Jurowski's tempi seem a tad cautious, the build up to the final huge climax and the strokes of the midnight bell are impressively delivered. The concluding epilogue 'Nachtwanderlied' typifies Jurowski's rather cerebral approach to this piece.
'Also sprach Zarathustra', though running continuously, has nine clearly defined sections, but Pentatone, in contrast to most of the available alternative versions on disc has unaccountably (and unhelpfully) allotted a single track to the whole work that lasts 32' 53”. They did the same with their recent recording of Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben' Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Macbeth - Orozco-Estrada, another regrettable decision.
Jurowski and his orchestra seem much more involved with their account of Mahler's early symphonic poem 'Totenfeier' that the composer re-worked as the opening movement of his second symphony. Here the playing is fiercely committed and makes a good case for occasional outings of this example of Mahler's first thoughts.
"The Symphonic Prelude in C minor," attributed here to Mahler is a student work from 1876 that sounds very like early Bruckner. There is no trace of the original score, but a preliminary sketch for it, apparently made by one of Mahler's student friends, is preserved at the Austrian National Library. The task of orchestrating the Prelude was undertaken (at the request of Peter Ruzicka the artistic director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra) by Albrecht Gürsching, the Hamburg composer and musicologist and it was first performed in March1981 by this orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster. Subsequent research, however, has thrown doubt as to whether this piece is actually by Mahler and Henri de La Grange, a leading authority on the composer, has wisely expressed the view that: "Until such time as new evidence comes to light, it seems extremely unwise to ascribe this piece to Mahler". The current general consensus seems to be that if not by Bruckner himself it is probably by one of the Bruckner adherents among Mahler's fellow students. This short brooding piece is, to be honest, pretty unremarkable, but Jurowski’s expansive performance does it more justice than that heard on Neeme Järvi’s 1992 account for Chandos.
Pentatone’s DSD recording is to the usual high house standard and, while perhaps not their finest, does not disappoint.
Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net