Compositions: Also Sprach Zarathustra
Performers: Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
Catalogue Number: Decca 4833080
The Festival Orchestra of Lucerne really is the modern equivalent of Walter Legge’s incomparable Philharmonia Orchestra of London in the 50s and early 60s. With Riccardo Chailly’s unwavering finesse and refinement, this all-Strauss CD is a real event – even in Also Sprach Zarathustra, the banal and personally bourgeois Strauss’ bizarre rumination on Nietzsche’s arcane philosophical ramblings which is sometimes a blowsy schlockfest or, under Solti, an over rambunctious slugfest.
No Hollywoodisation of the opening chords, as per Karl Böhm, either. The passage after the opening where the strings are gradually increased, layer upon layer, is absolutely seamless in ensemble – a real achievement. Similarly, at the very end, where the stratospherically high woodwind parts are so often out of tune and exhausted, here, they’re spot on.
In Death and Transfiguration, Chailly and his players reminded me of the start of Mahler’s Ninth in the momentarily uneven beat of the opening bars. Perhaps this lacks the apocalyptic vision of Karajan’s last version but the architecture and pacing are still superb, the climaxes perfectly calibrated.
Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks must be one of the hardest pieces to bring off: every phrase should sound like a polished jewel. They do here and the orchestra play like an army of generals, as one fellow critic averred. Finally, Salome divests with great Schwung! Magnificent sound.