STRAUSS: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30, Don Juan, Op. 20, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28
Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951) took over leadership of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1924,and became a major force in America as he had been previously in Paris. His many premieres there had included Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, which he had commissioned. During his quarter-century with the Boston Symphony he introduced many works by Shostakovitch, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Roussel, Milhaud and Ravel, as well championing the music of American composers including Copland, Barber, Piston, Hanson and Schuman.
Koussevitzky was an energetic perfectionist, and three of his finest recordings of music by Richard Strauss are enshrined on this superb new Biddulph CD. He was the first to record the massive symphonic poem, Also sprach Zarathustra--on January 22, 1935--and to this day his interpretation has unusual power. The mysterious opening of the "Sunrise" section has never sounded as ominous since, and his deliberately slow treatment of the slashing chords that follow each of the three trumpet calls brings a majesty to the music that is unheard in other recordings. I once heard a tape of a live performance of Zarathustra with Koussevitzky and his BSO, and the opening was as it is on this recording. Brass players were no doubt totally "out of wind," after this interpretive challenge to their resilience. Throughout the performance, and in other works on this CD, the luxuriant Boston strings live up to their reputation. It is remarkable how much sound was captured by Victor's engineers at the time, and how well it now has been transferred to silver disc by Mark Obert-Thorn.
Filling out the disc we have Till Eulenspiegel, recorded in April 1945, and Don Juan from October 1947. Both receive passionate, caring performances and, again, transfers are as faultless as they could be. Those who cherish Zarathustra will surely wish to have this distinctive recording of a work considered by many to be Strauss' "concerto for orchestra."