Richard Strauss has long been popular with audiophiles for his colorful tone painting, and few composers have received the sort of media boast he got for the opening of his Also Sprach Zarathustra. Don Juan is one of the virtuosic works in the entire orchestral canon, and has long been my personal favorite Strauss work. The standard iteration of it has been Fritz Reiner’s with the Chicago Symphony on RCA Red Seal, including the three-channel SACD release which also includes his Don Quixote. While it has drama and a sparkling performance that is difficult to better, it has a somewhat dulled sonics compared to the super-transparent clarity of this new PentaTone SACD, which additionally benefits from five-channel surround instead of just the front three channels.
The excellent surround sonics drew me into the major work here – Death and Transfiguration – composed by the agnostic Strauss when he was only 26. I don’t believe I have ever been so affected by this tone poem, which depicts the final hours of a dying man. Conductor Albrecht communicates the deepest feelings in this four-part work. He has conducted most of the top European opera companies as well as symphony orchestras. He is closely associated with the Dresden Opera and since 2006 has been chief conductor of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg.
The seriousness of Death and Transfiguration is relieved with the morbid wit exhibited in Till Eulenspiegel’s adventures. The clarinet representing the hapless Till has never sounded so anthropomorphic to me. The Reverie by the Fireside filler piece will be completely new to most listeners. It is a lyrical and tender little interlude portraying the wife of a conductor character in the opera Intermezzo.
– John Sunier