A frisson can be created for the listener, especially when tasked with a review, when contemplating a complete cycle, such as recently with Klaus Mäkelä’s Sibelius, http://www.colinscolumn.com/released-today-march-25-klaus-makela-the-oslo-philharmonic-record-sibeliuss-seven-symphonies-tapiola-for-decca/, and now similarly with Andris Nelsons’s Boston/Leipzig Richard Strauss collection – “all of [his] major orchestral works”. Hmmm, if the piano-and-orchestra Burleske (in which Yuja Wang’s virtuosity comes before anything else) can be included, why not the two Horn Concertos or the one for Oboe? (There are other contenders from the Strauss canon.)
From Strauss’s operas, we have Salome, Intermezzo, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Feuersnot and Rosenkavalier snippets, therefore the string-sextet Prelude to Capriccio would have been welcome (add seventeen more solo strings and you have Metamorphosen, which is included, and very fine, in Leipzig).
Turn to the final disc (number seven) and there is a Boston/Leipzig collaboration – from a Leipzig-visits-Boston concert, these two august ensembles joining forces for the overlong and stentorian, eventually empty, Festliches Präludium – fabulous playing (as it consistently is from both orchestras throughout this survey) and neighbour-threatening volume, but did organist Olivier Latry need to be engaged when the Boston Symphony must have its own skilled keyboardist? This disc also includes a Boston Till Eulenspiegel (short on wit).
Leipzig recordings include a somewhat restrained Don Juan (among recent versions, Paavo Järvi’s NHK for Sony is to be preferred, let alone Kempe, Reiner and Szell classics), a glowing and detailed Heldenleben (widescreen, too, given the antiphonal violins; basses left; sadly a seating-plan not found in Boston), with especially acerbic Critics, a revealing portrait of the Hero’s companion from concertmaster Frank-Michael Erben, and a cacophonous yet controlled Battle. Also, a Zarathustra that doesn’t quite sustain it’s initial ‘2001’ promise (demonstration-worthy), a superb Aus Italien and an equally impressive Macbeth, Nelsons really digging into the music’s bloodthirsty potential and raising its profile: dramatic pictures are painted.
From Boston, a shadowy, pulsating and moving Tod und Verklärung, a decent-enough (if better than that) Symphonia Domestica (a day in the life of the Strausses), the problem being, for any conductor, George Szell’s Cleveland recording, which is simply unbeatable, every bar nailed to perfection, which is not to say that Nelsons doesn’t offer an interesting alternative (so do Kempe and Previn). Eine Alpensinfonie (my Desert Island Strauss) climbs high, although the opening is not quiet or morning-misty enough, if overall in the shadow of (and personal to me) a reclaim of Maazel’s extraordinary and genuinely unique concert performance from 2014, http://www.colinscolumn.com/lorin-maazel-conducts-the-philharmonia-orchestra-in-richard-strausss-alpine-symphony-march-20-2014-royal-festival-hall-london/, but there’s much to like when divorcing oneself from what Maazel did that on that unforgettable night, now heard as a fond farewell by the maestro. Finally from Boston, the highlight that is Don Quixote, with Yo-Yo Ma as the cello-represented Don and (wonderful) Steven Ansell’s viola as Sancho Panza; a compelling picturesque reading (vivid sheep and windmills) that holds the attention and illuminates the score.
DG 486 2040 (7 CDs) is recommendable as a package, especially for anyone who fancies diving into Strauss at the deep-end, maybe less so to those already well-stocked with recordings of this repertoire … but mail-order prices for the box are enticing.