Fritz Reiner conducts RICHARD STRAUSS = Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30; Burleske in D Minor; Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28 – Byron Janis, piano/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ NBC Symphony (Till) – Pristine Audio Ambient Stereo & Stereo PASC 411 (CD-R), 67:28 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
It was in Dresden prior to his departure for America in 1922 that Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) made the acquaintance and established a friendship with composer Richard Strauss, whose music Reiner would record for RCA Victor 1952-1957 under the supervision of producer Richard Mohr and engineer Lewis Layton. Andrew Rose has decided to process his own versions of two Chicago Symphony staples, despite the existence of the Reiner Edition on RCA and a “Reiner conducts Strauss” multiple-CD set from Britain. Given the sonic largesse of his XR remastering process, the results in Also Sprach Zarathustra – already a larger than life historic stereo performance from 8 March 1954 – more than justify his efforts. The NBC Till Eulenspiegel (14 January 1952, now in ambient stereo) from Carnegie Hall with Toscanini’s orchestra, is excluded by nature from the RCA Reiner Edition, which adheres to CSO performances alone.
Almost in spite of the massive C-G-C opening of international and cinematic (via Stanley Kubrick) fame, the second section, Of the people of the unseen world, has under Reiner more visceral power than any other performance I know. Reiner then proceeds to hurl tones with passionate abandon for the Of the great longing sequence, his CSO brass section – featuring the famed Adolf Herseth, trumpet – tympani, harp, and strings in brilliant, alchemical combination. Even early in the score, violin John Weicher plies his violin in marked anticipation of his demonic contribution to the later Dance Song and Night Song. The taut line continues through the Dirge and into Of Science, where the upper strings and flutes incant their own magic. A series of harp riffs and convulsive gestures from the strings and low winds lead to the octave leap to high C for Herseth, a rather ironic test of who is, in fact, The Convalescent. With the last two sections Strauss confirms Nietzsche’s visionary premise of a freed humanity, Man having shed the shackles of his own preconditioned habits of thought. The Dance Song, solo violin and oboe in drunken consort, invoke some Hindu deity, likely Shiva. The last episode, the Night Wanderer’s Song, merely expresses an enigmatic “Wohin” or ‘Whither Mankind?” as the competing B and C pedal points pit brute fact against imaginative possibility.
American pianist Byron Janis (b. 1928) makes a naturally flamboyant partner for Reiner in their traversal of the 1886 D Minor Burleske (4 March 1957, in stereo), whose splashy, Lisztian romanticism had proved attractive to the legendary keyboard virtuoso Eugen d’Albert. Alternately frantic and lyrically poignant, the piece allows Janis to exhibit his bravura flair while indulging in intimate and waltz-like patterns that nod homage more often to Brahms than to Chopin. The happy rapport between Janis, the fluttering woodwinds, and the ambitious tympani has always made this performance irresistible. The CSO brass must have their time in the sun, and Strauss provides them clarion opportunities before the piano soothes the storm temporarily, with the muffled support of the tympani’s tapping out the opening motto. The middle section sports a kind of abbreviated cadenza to which the orchestra responds with Viennese charm, or at least dance figures close to those in Der Rosenkavalier. The tempests with strings and tympani motivate the piano to strum a series of conciliatory riffs, though they include some potent scales and massive trills. All these virtuoso effects, pianistic and orchestral, produce some twenty minutes of breathtaking collaboration, gorgeously reproduced thirty-six years later.
The Till Eulenspiegel receives a generously witty treatment, large in pomp and acerbic dissonances, as required. Reiner certainly harbored a lusty and pungent vision for the picaresque, and Till manages to depict a series of alternately irreverent and bawdy misadventures. The Carnegie Hall acoustic enhances the sonic effect of the ensemble, especially when we compare Toscanini contemporaneous efforts from Studio 8-H. For a combination of electric excitement, impertinent wit, and incisive colors, this Till adds a dividend to an already impressive reissue.