Tag Archives: Richard Strauss


Don Juan, Vier letzte Lieder, Also sprach Zarathustra

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

TPT: 73’ 46 ‘‘

ABC 481 1122

reviewed by Neville Cohn


This is a sumptuous recording of Don Juan. It impresses from the very first seconds, its opening measures metaphorically sweeping this listener off his feet. Immense, focussed energy launches the piece in an electrifying, frankly thrilling start – and unfolds no less impressively.


SMP MSO - Strauss Don Juan, Four Last Songs, Also sprach ZarathustraSo often, ‘live’ concert recordings disappoint – but not this one. For much of the time, it is in the best sense satisfying, as much due to the skill of the sound engineers as the orchestral players and conductor Sir Andrew Davis.


From first note to last, one senses complete absorption in the work on the part of both conductor and orchestra – and, let us be frank, the sound engineers. The latter, in their crucial role, were clearly on their toes; it’s a recording that does very real justice to the players – and to Strauss. Very occasionally, string tone might have been a shade cleaner. But attack and follow-through were everything one could have hoped for.


Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra is given a no-less-meaningful reading with a thrilling introduction, expressed with the sort of hackle-raising intensity which draws the listener ineluctably into the composer’s unique mood and sound universe. Its hushed ending is finely considered.


Strauss’Vier letzte Lieder – Four Last Songs – that wondrously autumnal, bittersweet leave-taking of the world, is some of the most profoundly moving music ever committed to paper. Here, the MSO and Davis do wonders with the score, its nostalgia-drenched measures everything one could hope for. Horn playing is wondrously fine in ‘September’. The singing, though, for all its many merits, does not fully evoke the intrinsic melancholy of the work as effectively as the accompaniment – and the vocal line is not quite secure in ‘Fruhling’ and loses power at the nadir of the range in Beim Schlafengehen.



Transcendent Love – The Passions of Wagner and Strauss

Lis Gasteen, soprano

West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Simone Young, conductor

ABC Classics 476 6811

TPT: 73’41”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Let it be said at once that soprano Lisa Gasteen is ideally suited to this repertoire. She has those qualities of heart and mind essential to essay works of this kind – and she has, crucially, the ability to effortlessly ride the crest of the accompanying orchestral wave no matter how substantial that might be. I especially admired the skill and expressiveness with which she sang Traume, the first of Wagner’s famous Wesendonck Lieder, with a gently pulsing accompaniment a fine counterpoint to the vocal line. At cycle’s end, incidentally, Traume is repeated, this time with the vocal line played with commendable sensitivity by violinist John Harding who, at the time, was concertmaster of the WASO. Gasteen is equally convincing in three of Richard Strauss’ lieder: Zueignung, Heimliche Aufforderung and Allerseelen. Stylewise, they are beyond criticism.

For this listener, however, the chief joy of this recording – and this is said with all due acknowledgement of Gasteen’s formidable artistry – is the quality of string playing of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. In this sense, the most rewarding offering of the compilation is a splendidly presented Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

Here, the strings are in particularly memorable fettle, producing a uniformity of tonal sheen that lifts the performance to a special category of excellence. Here, as throughout, Simone Young presides over events with wondrous skill as she coaxes her forces to ever more meaningful effect, not least in finely sustained phrase lines. This is yet another demonstration of Young’s quite extraordinary ability to take her forces to levels which, in the ordinary course of events, the players themselves might have considered unattainable.

This was such persuasive playing that,  if the  shade of Wagner himself had hovered over the  proceedings, it might well have nodded its approval of both Young and the WASO. There is also a thoroughly worthwhile performance of Strauss’ Metamorphosen.