R. STRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30; Burleske in D Minor for Piano and Orchestra – Byron Janis, p./ Chicago Sym. Orch./ Fritz Reiner – HDTT HDCD 264, 54:22 [also avail. as 24/192 & 24/96 hi-res downloads or DVDs at www.highdefapetransfers.com] ****:
The 1962 Fritz Reiner inscription of the 1896 symphonic poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s extended philosophical meditation, has retained its renown and its power, perhaps in spite of his earlier epic performance from 1954. Now HDTT takes the original RCA 4-track tape and subjects it to a revival process whose clarity reminds us of the specificity of orchestral detail Reiner could command. We note the wonderful work in the CSO woodwinds, especially in the E-flat and B-flat clarinets, and in the prowess of the high flutes. Even after the famous C-G-C opening “Sunrise” sequence, the sheer intensity of string work in the Von den Hinterweltern section astonishes as does counterpoint found in Von der Wissenschaft. The energy of “The Convalescent” extends directly into Das Tanzlied, with its own variant on the opening motivic sequence, violin and orchestra, oboe and double harp in luxurious collaboration. The final section, “Song of the Night Wanderer,“ collides the modalities of B Major and C Major, Humanity and the Cosmos, and the outcome remains in perpetual doubt. Nietzsche had proclaimed “The Eternal Return” as the ultimate truth in his meditation, and so this wonderful recording comes back to us in renewed sound. A decided warmth of expression manages to suffuse this transfer, quite unexpected in this efficient age of the standard compact disc.
For the 1886 D Minor Burleske from 1957, Reiner has the expert keyboard velocities of American virtuoso Byron Janis (b. 1928). The magnificently grueling Lisztian keyboard part has its complement in the tympani; and together in the presence of some soaring string work, the piece manages to transcend Hans von Bulow’s original estimate of the work as “a complicated piece of nonsense.” The frequent allusions to the Liszt Totentanz notwithstanding, the music generates a devout sincerity in its waltz figures, which reprise lushly just prior to the demonic fury of the coda. HDTT says they have taken the sound source from a commercial RCA LP; if so, it must have been in immaculate condition. The brass work, not to mention the peerless timbre from oboe (Ray Still), beguiles in this bravura alchemy of the first order.
The historic restorations show a renewed vitality.