Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (1895-1896) [32:53]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Sinfonisches Präludium für Orchester
(1876, reconstructed by Albrecht Gürsching) [8:54]
Tobias Berndt (organ)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Vladimir Jurowski
rec. 2016, Haus des Rundfunks, RBB Berlin
Reviewed as a stereo DSD64 download from
Pdf booklet included
PENTATONE PTC5186597 SACD
This album is not Vladimir Jurowski’s first for this label, but it is his first with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin since he was
chosen as their chief conductor. The appointment takes effect from the
2017-2018 season, so this recording celebrates both that and the start of a
new partnership with Pentatone. Over the past decade, as principal
conductor of the London Philharmonic, Jurowski has been wowing South Bank
concertgoers with his thoughtful, and sometimes controversial, concerts; as
Colin Clarke’s Seen and Heard
review suggests, the Russian’s Mahler
Eighth, although excellent, was not without its foibles.
As it happens, I first encountered Jurowski in Mahler, a Medici DVD with
the LPO that included the original version of
His audio recordings for the orchestra’s own label include a Resurrection that
described as ‘too wilful’; my own
was even less complimentary. And John was guarded in his
of Jurowski and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s Totenfeier and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Signum). As
for Richard Strauss, Jurowski and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe have
recorded a video of Metamorphosen and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
(Euroarts); there’s also a Blu-ray/DVD of his Glyndebourne Ariadne auf Naxos
Strauss’s Nietzschean epic, Also Sprach Zarathustra, has fared well
on record, but, as I pointed out in my recent
of Ed Gardner’s recording with the NYOGB, the old ‘uns are still the best
‘uns. For me, William Steinberg’s classic Boston account – which I
as a remastered, high-res download – is the one to beat. In addition to
music-making that’s fresh, vigorous and full of insight, the 1970s
recording has a blend of detail, weight and sheer frisson that’s
just remarkable; the coupling, Holst’s Planets, is equally
impressive. That original Linn/Universal download (no longer available from
Linn) was very expensive, but
the Qobuz version is much more reasonably priced.
The spectacular sunrise at the start of Jurowski’s Zarathustra,
underpinned by Tobias Berndt on the Seifert organ of St Matthias-Kirche,
Berlin-Schöneberg, is certainly arresting; sensibly, the ad lib part
isn’t allowed to linger, as it does in the Andris Nelsons/CBSO performance (Orfeo). The orchestral playing that follows is very lush indeed, a world away
from the sinew and superhuman attack that characterise Karajan’s DG
recordings. Then again, Jurowski’s overall approach is more expansive than
most. Trouble is, he’s just too laid back, and that’s not ideal in a work
that begs to be played for all it’s worth.
More injurious, though, is the inexplicable inertia of Jurowski’s reading;
that, in turn, plays merry hell with character and coherence. Yes, Karajan
can be very forceful in this music, but at least he knows how to shape and
propel it towards that big central climax and beyond. Steinberg, less
driven, is also formidable, the work’s architecture revealed in a way that
few rivals can match. As for the Pentatone recording, it’s decent enough,
but for some reason it sounds slightly ‘dead’ compared with the vitality,
the ear-pricking immediacy, that makes Steinberg’s Zarathustra so
So, a let-down – even more so than Jurowski’s
with the same forces, although that’s superbly recorded – but I hoped he’d
redeem himself with the fillers; these are curiosities that will probably
be of more interest to die-hard Mahlerians than to the casual listener.
First up is Totenfeier, written in 1888 and subsequently reworked as
the first movement of the composer’s Second Symphony. I last encountered
the piece when I
RCO Live’s double-anniversary box in 2013. Fabio Luisi, the conductor
there, doesn’t have much of a track record in this repertoire, which should
give Jurowski a head start here.
The scoring of Totenfeier is clumsy in parts and dramatic flourishes
tend to misfire; that said, the music should be more compelling than it is
here. Unfortunately, the playing lacks polish and Jurowski seems to be on
autopilot much of the time. By contrast, the 24/48
download of his OAE performance boasts a more focused ensemble. Not only
that, there’s a sense of idiom and purpose that I simply don’t hear in this
Berlin remake. And while the Signum recording, made live at the Festival
Hall, isn’t ideal, it appears to have more detail and impact. Ultimately,
though, both readings are much the same, and neither stands out. If you
really must have the piece, I’d suggest Karl Anton Rickenbacher on
Erato or Pierre Boulez on DG, the latter coupled with Zarathustra.
The Symphonic Prelude, attributed to Mahler, is based on a
short-score copy found in the Austrian National Library. Reconstructed by
the composer Albrecht Gürsching, it was first performed by Lawrence Foster
and this Berlin band in March 1981. But, as the liner notes point out, the
original version was premiered by the Munich Philharmonic in 1949. To add
to the confusion, the full score has since come to light, bearing the
inscription ‘by Anton Bruckner’. Whatever its true provenance, I find the Symphonic Prelude tentative and, frankly, rather dull.
What a drab and inconclusive sign-off to an already dispiriting programme.
However, this release raises wider concerns. Just a few weeks ago I
a disappointing Mahler 2 with Daniele Gatti, his first recording with the
Concertgebouw as their newly installed chief conductor. That, too, was
supposed to be the launch pad for a prestigious new partnership.
Worryingly, neither comes even close to lift-off.
Not Jurowski’s finest hour; look elsewhere.