Sensational Strauss


How much better can it get than Telarc's special four-CD box set, The Essential Richard Strauss? Here is some of the greatest music Strauss ever wrote, performed by the glorious Vienna Philharmonic under André Previn. Recorded in the fabled acoustic of the Musikvereinsall, and released between 1988 and 1991, the recordings are classic examples of Telarc's early accomplishments in the digital domain.

The repertoire extends over an astounding 59 years, from the early tone poem, Don Juan, Op. 20 (1889) through the glorious farewell, the Four Last Songs (1948). In between came the other great tone poems, of which the set includes Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (1896); Don Quixote, Op. 35 (Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, 1898); and Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (1899).

Equally thematic, albeit longer in duration, is the last tone poem, The Alpine Symphony, Op. 64 (1915). With a score that calls for a huge orchestra complete with cowbells and a wind machine, Ein Alpensinfonie has met with skepticism on the part of those who have refused to succumb to its glorious, truly climactic climaxes. It may be overly literal, even a bit schmaltzy, but how often does literal also qualify as transcendent?

Composing came slower to Strauss toward the end of his life, but inspiration remained undimmed. Proof lies in the Four Last Songs, which he did not live to hear premiered. Arleen Auger, one of America's finest sopranos of the late 20th century, sings them beautifully, with rare emotional chasteness.