STRAUSS:  Symphonia domestica, Op. 53.  Don Juan, Op. 20
Czech Philharmonic Orch/Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond.

ONDINE ODE 943  (F) (DDD) TT: 59:28

Vladimir Ashkenazy, best-known for his keyboard activities and countless recordings of a wide range of concertos and solo works,  also has a career as a conductor .  His first recordings in that capacity  were the Sibelius symphonies recorded  with the Philharmonia Orchestra, still in the catalog,  available in two budget-priced London/Decca twin-pack sets (455 401 & 455 405).  Many of his recordings as conductor have been deleted; one of his best is his Cleveland recording of Prokofiev's Cinderella, reviewed on this site.

Ashkenazy has made the rounds in the orchestral circle. From 1987 to 1994 he was Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic,  Principal Guest Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra (1988-1994),  from 1989 to 1999 was Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Deutsches-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra,  as well as appearing frequently  with major orchestras including the Berlin, St. Petersburg  and Los Angeles Philharmonics, and the San Francisco, Boston and San Francisco Symphonies.  He also appeared with  the Royal Concertgebouw with which he made fine recordings of  music of  Rachmaninoff:  all three symphonies, The Isle of the Dead, Symphonic Dances, and The Bells,  currently available in a boxed set at budget price.  Ashkenazy also recorded a  beautful -- but overly relaxed  -- set of Rachmaninoff's  four concertos with the Concertgebouw  conducted by  Bernard Haitink.  With the Cleveland Orchestra he recorded Strauss's Alpine Symphony, Also sprach Zarathustra, Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel and Ein Heldenleben, all for London/Decca, all discontinued.

Ashkenazy conducted his first concerts in his new position of  Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic in January 1999; however, he had appeared with them earlier. This first recording with the famed orchestra was made in April 1997.  It is auspicious in some ways, inconsequential in others.  Do we really need another Don Juan when more than forty currently are available?  Competition isn't nearly as fierce for Symphonia domestica, but we do have versions by Furtw”ngler, J”rvi, Maazel, Previn, Reiner and Szell. Most have playing times of 42 plus or minus minutes, except for Maazel's incredibly expansive (49:52) but luxuriously recorded RCA version.  You  might want to read R.D.'s comments on Eugene Ormandy's pioneering RCA recording   issued on Biddulph.  Ashkenazy's performance is a touch over 42 minutes.  The Czech Philharmonic gives their best -- which is very fine indeed -- and the Japanese/Czech production team provides superb sound -- although not quite of the level of Decca's recent recording of Suk.  With a PT of less than an hour, another of Strauss's symphonic poems easily could have been included. This full-priced CD is primarily for admirers of Ashkenazy or the Czech Phil.  Ashkenazy also is recording for Ondine with the Helsinki Philharmonic; a review of his CD of music of Rautavaara including a piano concerto composed for him is on this site.

R.E.B. (June 2000)