A Sampling of Noteworthy Strauss Recordings for 2014

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FREE Download: Thomas Hampson sings Strauss’s "Die Nacht," Op. 10 No. 3*

If it’s a major composer anniversary year, that must mean a batch of new commemorative recordings. Richard Strauss has long been well-served by recording labels: there are more than 2,400 albums of his music, according to one measurement. Here are four new notable additions to the catalog.

Notturno: Songs by Richard Strauss
Thomas Hampson, baritone
Wolfram Rieger, piano
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Strauss was one of history's preeminent song composers, his output spanning more than a half-century and dozens of pieces. American baritone Thomas Hampson presents 18 of the composer's songs in chronological order, covering the years 1885 (with "Zueignung," or "Dedication") to 1935 (with "Im Sonnenschein," or "In the Sunshine"). The collection offers an attractive mix of familiar and relatively obscure pieces and Hampson, who has already surveyed the songs of Mahler, has a nice feeling for Strauss's word painting. Now in his late 50s, Hampson's voice is still in very good form. Violinist Daniel Hope joins the singer in the title track.


Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Andris, Nelsons, conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com

As Andris Nelsons prepares to step down from his post as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, he can point to a series of fine Strauss recordings as part of his legacy with this Northern England ensemble. The latest installment features three classic tone poems: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel. The sound is big and muscular but not without refinement -- qualities that undoubtedly impressed the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where Nelsons is about to become music director. Just one quibble: at $20, this is one not one of the more wallet-friendly Strauss recordings of 2014.


The Other Strauss: Symphonic, Vocal and Chamber Music
Various Artists
Warner Classics
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Yes, we know all about Strauss the tone poem and opera composer. But there's much more. This set digs into Strauss's chamber works and choral music among other esoterica. There's Die Gottin im Putzzimmer, an irresistibly upbeat piece for double mixed chorus from 1935; Die Tageszeiten (1928), for male choir; an orchestral fantasy based on Die Frau ohne Schatten; plus a Cello Sonata (played by Mstislav Rostropovich) and a Violin Sonata (Vadim Repin) early pieces containing much flamboyance. The performances here are drawn from the Warner catalog and include the orchestras of Philadelphia, Rotterdam and Dresden.


Strauss Conducts Strauss (plus Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner et al)
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Most of the recordings on this 7-CD box set are from the 1920s and early '30s, and feature all of his major tone poems plus a few other works. Like many composer-conducted performances, these are best heard as documents on how he preferred the tempos, dynamics and other musical details. His tempos are fluid and he avoids all sense of exaggeration. As Gottfried Kraus's liner notes stated, "even at the biggest climaxes there is none of the bombast found in the interpretations of many later conductors. Instead Strauss set store by dynamic variety, by tone color and by instrumental subtleties, in that way filling out the content, imagery and figures of his tone poms." Alas, the recording technology of this era was not sufficiently advanced to preserve many of these details but they are fascinating documents nonetheless.

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