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Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Mahler: Totenfeier - Jurowski

Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Mahler: Totenfeier - Jurowski

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 597

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra
Mahler: Totenfeier, Sinfonisches Präludium für Orchester

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)


Vladimir Jurowski and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin excel in these new recordings of Richard Strauss’s electrifying Also Sprach Zarathustra and Mahler’s Totenfeier, to coincide with the Russian maestro taking up office as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the orchestra.

Strauss’s bold and passionate tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra is a riveting work, famous for its startlingly atmospheric opening. With a thrilling and florid orchestral score, it’s a work which Jurowski observes “…launches the whole idea of 20th century music. Written in the 19th century, this is one of those pieces which announces the new century to come."

It is paired with Mahler’s no less gripping Totenfeier which is an early version of the first movement of his Symphony No 2 "Resurrection". "I find very interesting to compare [the two versions] …", writes Jurowski, “In many ways, the Totenfeier is less accomplished , but far more honest and genuine." Juxtaposing the Strauss and Mahler works in this way, Jurowski notes “Zarathustra is all about technical brilliance and accomplishment … in the Mahler the surfaces are much less polished, so there is much more aspiration to go into the depth of things."

Jurowski is one of today’s most sought-after conductors, widely praised for his adventurousness and incisive musicianship. He has made several critically acclaimed recordings for PENTATONE, including works by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. For his recording with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin of Schnittke’s Symphony No 3, BBC Music Magazine opined "Vladimir Jurowski … delivers an absolutely stunning account that vividly captures the work’s drama and emotional intensity.”

The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin is one of the leading orchestras in Berlin. Under former artistic director and chief conductor Marek Janowski, it has made numerous classic recordings with us, including a critically acclaimed cycle of 10 Wagner operas.

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Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - September 30, 2017

Those familiar with his work with the London Philharmonic Orchestra will know that Vladimir Jurowski is one of the most exciting and gifted conductors of his generation, so his new appointment as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the RSO Berlin is a cause for celebration.

The possibility of a really outstanding performance and recording of Strauss's 'Also sprach Zarathustra' in multi-channel sound from Pentatone was also an enticing prospect, but unfortunately my high expectations for this release were not met. The famous opening 'Einleitung' should be sonorous and immediately arresting, but here it makes little impact. The timpani sound boomy and cavernous while the Seifert organ – dubbed on from the St. Matthias Kirche, Berlin-Schöneberg – sounds unimpressive and decidedly lacking in weight in the lower frequencies.

As the work proceeds Jurowski elicits some luscious string sounds from his fine orchestra and the fairly closely miked recording allows much detail in the orchestration to be heard. The fugal 'Von der Wissenschaft' section is especially clearly articulated by the double basses – not always the case, but again the lack of heft from the organ at the climax of this section is disappointing. 'Das 'Tanzlied' benefits from the deft playing of concertmaster Rainer Walters and though at times Jurowski's tempi seem a tad cautious, the build up to the final huge climax and the strokes of the midnight bell are impressively delivered. The concluding epilogue 'Nachtwanderlied' typifies Jurowski's rather cerebral approach to this piece.

'Also sprach Zarathustra', though running continuously, has nine clearly defined sections, but Pentatone, in contrast to most of the available alternative versions on disc has unaccountably (and unhelpfully) allotted a single track to the whole work that lasts 32' 53”. They did the same with their recent recording of Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben' Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Macbeth - Orozco-Estrada, another regrettable decision.

Jurowski and his orchestra seem much more involved with their account of Mahler's early symphonic poem 'Totenfeier' that the composer re-worked as the opening movement of his second symphony. Here the playing is fiercely committed and makes a good case for occasional outings of this example of Mahler's first thoughts.

"The Symphonic Prelude in C minor," attributed here to Mahler is a student work from 1876 that sounds very like early Bruckner. There is no trace of the original score, but a preliminary sketch for it, apparently made by one of Mahler's student friends, is preserved at the Austrian National Library. The task of orchestrating the Prelude was undertaken (at the request of Peter Ruzicka the artistic director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra) by Albrecht Gürsching, the Hamburg composer and musicologist and it was first performed in March1981 by this orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster. Subsequent research, however, has thrown doubt as to whether this piece is actually by Mahler and Henri de La Grange, a leading authority on the composer, has wisely expressed the view that: "Until such time as new evidence comes to light, it seems extremely unwise to ascribe this piece to Mahler". The current general consensus seems to be that if not by Bruckner himself it is probably by one of the Bruckner adherents among Mahler's fellow students. This short brooding piece is, to be honest, pretty unremarkable, but Jurowski’s expansive performance does it more justice than that heard on Neeme Järvi’s 1992 account for Chandos.

Pentatone’s DSD recording is to the usual high house standard and, while perhaps not their finest, does not disappoint.

Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comments (11)

Comment by diw - August 6, 2017 (1 of 11)

I am hoping someone will be able to do a direct comparison with the Jarvi Zarathustra release.

Comment by John Broggio - August 12, 2017 (2 of 11)

I am planning to!

Comment by fausto kantiano - August 13, 2017 (3 of 11)

looking forward to this one. Finally, a regular modern-day DSD recording of Also sprach Z.

Comment by hiredfox - August 21, 2017 (4 of 11)

This one is outstanding and almost as good as von Karajan's epic performance from 40 years or so ago which is now available as an analogue - DSD transfer on Japanese Universal single-layer which will knock your socks off - if it it still in print. One really doubts vK's performance with the BPO can ever be bettered.

Desire. Hope. World Affairs - Brogli-Sacher


Of course the new association of Jaarvi with the NHK is producing sonic miracles in Japan and the two previous recent Strauss discs on Sony RCA have been excellent so never say never I suppose. Jurowski unlikely, he's good but not that good.

Comment by fausto kantiano - August 22, 2017 (5 of 11)

agree about the Karajan, and also that Jurowski is unlikely to better it, but still, I'm curious what the Pentatone team brings to the table.

A pity that the Dresden Staatskapelle keep the Luisi recording of ASZ in the vaults because of a dispute (quite silly, actually)

Comment by hiredfox - August 23, 2017 (6 of 11)

Oh absolutely, their recordings are amongst the very finest available. There will be surely no complaint about the technical aspects and the RSO are one of Germany's finest ensembles so it will boil down to Maestro Jurowski's interpretation of what comes after the first 22 bars! Keeping audience interest alive is the challenge is it not?

By the way the Brogli-Sacher recording has a wonderfully realistic acoustic which suits this piece very well. It also has applause at the end. Of course it has become impossible to forget the music's association with the old Stanley Kubrick film so a good acoustic can only reinforce the mystical quality of the piece.

Comment by fausto kantiano - September 8, 2017 (7 of 11)

video of Jurowski talking about recording the Zarathustra/Totenfeier for SACD: goo.gl/fjtEwx

Comment by diw - September 9, 2017 (8 of 11)

It is of interest that the Brogli-Sacher gets a rave review from the site reviewer but 3 out of 5 folks on the site do not recommend it.

Comment by William Hecht - September 11, 2017 (9 of 11)

The mixed response to the Brogli Sacher disc may be a matter of expectations about how the piece ought to sound. The Lubeck band is only about 65 strong, and in my view does perfectly well by the Honegger symphonies which I bought in the collected set rather than in their earlier iterations with interesting but non-essential couplings. I'm not so sure I'd pick them for Zarathustra, however. On the other hand I don't think the enormous National Youth Orchestra does the work any favors either: Holst: The Planets, Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra - Gardner. Despite fabulous playing from the "kids" the recording is simply not clear enough to do justice to the orchestration. I'm looking forward to this new one (it's on the to be played pile but I haven't gotten to it yet).

Comment by Jan Arell - September 26, 2017 (10 of 11)

The Karajan CD's are hard to beat, but I'm very glad I bought this recording of Zarathustra.
The playing is very good. The audio, in multichannel, is stunning even if the percussion sometimes is too prominent. All in all I find it a MUCH better recording than Gardner's recent SACD, released earlier this year and coupled with Holst's Planets.
A pity that Pentatone has not given the individual movements separate tracks; Zarathustra is only one 33 minutes long track.

I can't say much of the couplings, both works are new to me (I of course have the later version of the Totenfeier, as the 2nd symphonies 1st movement). Strange that the last track is attributed to Mahler on the cover when, according to the booklet, most musicologists seem to believe it's by Bruckner.

Comment by John Proffitt - October 22, 2017 (11 of 11)

The Symphonic Prelude is indeed recognized now as a product of Anton Bruckner and his Vienna Conservatory students in the 1870's. Its earliest discovery was in 1948: a handwritten manuscript in the estate of Bruckner pupil Rudolf Krzyanowski, copied by Krzyanowski and identified on the title page as "by Anton Bruckner". A performance was planned by the Munich Philharmonic, but never took place; however, the score and performance parts remained in the orchestra's library. This manuscript was also examined by several leading Bruckner scholars of the day, including Max Auer, Volkmar Andreae, and Leopold Nowak, but no clear consensus emerged regarding Bruckner's authorship.

The earlier Mahler attribution originated with Mahler scholar Paul Banks and his 1979 "rediscovery" of this work in a piano transcription in the Austrian National Library. The piano transcription was orchestrated by Albrecht Gürsching in 1980 and published as a youthful work by Mahler. The Gürsching orchestration was first recorded by Neemi Järvi as a companion piece to his Chandos album of the Mahler Symphony 6, and this is the version recorded in the recent Pentatone release by Jurowski.

In 1985 German conductor Wolfgang Hiltl rediscovered the original score and parts in the Munich Philharmonic archive, which have been published by Doblinger Vienna under its original title "Von Anton Bruckner. Rudolf Krzyanowski copiert 1876". The original orchestration is substantially different, as might be expected, from the Gürsching orchestration of the piano reduction. It has been recorded for HDTT by the Moores School Symphony Orchestra of Houston, TX, as a filler on their Blu-ray Audio recording of Bruckner's Mass No. 3 in F-Minor.

Regardless of its confused history, the Symphonic Prelude is an interesting work, the authenticity of which remains a matter of debate. Perhaps it was an exercise in composition Bruckner's students worked on with his input and assistance, but in any case it is certainly worth hearing.