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CD & Download: Pristine Audio

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite Op.60 - Minuet of Lully and Prelude to Act II (Intermezzo) (1918) [3:21 + 3:24]
Salome - Dance of the Seven Veils (1905) - New York recording [8:04]
Salome - Dance of the Seven Veils (1905) - London recording [8:18]
Don Juan, symphonic poem Op. 20 (1888) [15:30]
Der Rosenkavalier - Waltzes (1911) [7:23]
Der Rosenkavalier - Suite (1911) [26:29]
unnamed Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Augmented Tivoli Orchestra/Richard Strauss
rec. 1921-26, London and New York
Experience Classicsonline

Pristine Audio’s disc sub-title tells the story. These are the complete British and American recordings made by Richard Strauss between 1921 and 1926. The first in the sequence came for Brunwick in New York in December 1921 and consisted of four 78 sides. The first two consisted of excerpts from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite, of which the anonymous orchestra’s wind players do well by the Prelude to Act II. The other released performance was the double-sided Dance of the Seven Veils. You do notice the side join here - it’s at 4.03 - but this is mainly because of the harp rallentando and also the change in noise level. But it will perturb no one.

Soon after making these Brunswicks Strauss was in London, in the New Year of 1922, recording with the LSO. The youthful orchestra was in the vanguard of post-War recording and signed with distinguished names, of whom Strauss was but one. The LSO proves a more athletic and suggestive band than the uncredited American orchestra. At the same time they recorded a somewhat cut Don Juan. It’s an invaluable document in that it demonstrates at least relative tempo modifications made by Strauss and suggests in a general way his favoured direction. The recording is, as ever problematic. The violins are frequently underpowered - they could not have been enough in the first place - and there’s a certain muddiness owing to the bass augmentation of the violin line. Still we can hear the solo violin well enough; it’s stalwart W.H. Reed - a fine player. I have some private recordings of his playing and he was a distinguished chamber player, as well as orchestral leader.

Strauss embodied the idea of the no-sweat conductor par excellence and one imagines him in the studio, seemingly unflappable, eyes hooded, left hand in waistcoat pocket. If that’s how he was when he was engaged to recorded the augmented Tivoli Orchestra in the suite from the 1926 film score of Der Rosenkavalier then it wouldn’t in the least surprise me, despite the provisional nature of the London band at his disposal and the rather strange nature of the undertaking. The suite includes orchestral transcriptions. It was recorded in the Queen’s Hall in April 1926 and its status as a pretty early electric is palpable. There must have been a stiffening of tough pros from other London orchestras because despite the fear that we will be listening to sight-reading café players they actually sound pretty well drilled. The circumstances of the recording were straightforward; there had been a (silent) film of Der Rosenkavalier and composer and orchestra went to Queen’s Hall the following day to record this suite. The Presentation March - an addition - sounds like something Beecham cooked up from Handel. As intimated earlier the band has come in for a fair amount of badinage over the years in some quarters but it sounds perfectly acceptable to me and the suite emerges with its tactile, buoyant vitality unscathed; indeed, in its own way, enhanced.

Of the Rosenkavalier Suite there are rival transfers. There’s Koch 1D(1)37132-2 which I’ve not heard and Dutton CDBP9785, which I have. The Pristine is more faithful to the 78 and enshrines a greater weight of shellac hiss. Dutton’s sound is bigger - and more processed.

Jonathan Woolf











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