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Strauss: Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegel; Death and Transfiguration
Richard [1] Strauss, Zdenek Kosler, Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
Strauss: Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegel; Death and Transfiguration
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (3) - Disc #1


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Respectable Performance, Unspectacular Acoustics and Sound
Leslie Richford | Selsingen, Lower Saxony | 05/05/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This 1989 recording is the second of three CDs with "tone poems" by Richard Strauss that Zdenek Kosler made for Naxos, and my impression is of a fairly respectable performance, marred however by the unspectacular acoustics of the Reduta Hall in Bratislava where the recording sessions took place and by the comparative lack of spaciousness (and volume) of the audio sound.(A comparison with Herbert von Karajan's 1974 recording of "Death and Transfiguration" made it plain that the Naxos engineers had problems with the huge orchestra that Strauss demands and that they had placed the microphones a little too far from the musicians, resulting in a sound that, however realistic, made individual instruments such as oboe and flute to be not loud enough in those passages where they really have something to say and need to be in the forefront of attention. After a marathon session of experimenting, I came to the conclusion that it was best listening to the Kosler over headphones on my computer where I was able, with the help of Real Player and SRS Audio sandbox, to adjust the levels accordingly. My normal audio listening equipment tended just to emphasize the weaknesses of the Naxos recording.)

"Don Juan" was Strauss's first tone-poem (assuming that you don't count "Aus Italien" as being of this genre) and is generally agreed to be a masterful stroke of genius. In the Liszt-Wagner tradition, it is based on Lenau's "Don Juan" epic rather than on, for example, Mozart or Byron, but it is scarcely possible to follow out a complete programme; rather, it is the musical drama with its contrasting themes that makes this piece so convincing.
"Death and Transfiguration" (German "Tod und Verklärung") is a brilliant musical representation of death - written by Strauss when he was a mere 25 years old! We hear the heartbeat as it gets fainter, interrupted by dream-like phases and memories - and periods of excrucicating pain; Kosler takes the piece at a leisurely but not expansive tempo that I found quite attractive - Herbert von Karajan's 1974 recording of the piece for Deutsche Grammophon is considerably more in the vein of a "largo" and lasts two and a half minutes longer than Kosler's version. Karajan has the advantage of vastly superior acoustics and audio technology and is, of course, the more intellectual of the two, but Kosler's version, despite its limitations, is not totally outclassed.

"Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks" is an ambiguous orchestral rondeau with a famous horn theme representing the comic hero himself. Some years after composing the piece, Strauss provided a programme, but this was not his original intention, and personally I felt quite at ease just listening to the piece as music indicating character and mood rather than story. Of the three compositions on this CD, this is the one where one has the impression that the Slovak Philharmonic feels most at home, although it may just be the effervescent music itself which leads to this impression.