RICHARD STRAUSS SYMPHONIC POEMS
Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Clemens Krauss, cond.

Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40. (rec. Sept. 1952)  Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30. (rec. June 1950). 
TESTAMENT SBT 1183  (F) (ADD) TT: 75:46

Sinfonia Domestica, Op. 53. (rec. May 1951) Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite, Op. 60.(rec. Sept. 1952).
TESTAMENT SBT 1184  (F) (ADD) TT: 79:20

Don Quixote, Op. 35. (rec. June, 1953) Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28. (rec. June 1950) Don Juan, Op. 20. (rec. June 1950). TESTAMENT SBT 1185  (F) (ADD) TT: 72:58

Aus Italien, Op. 16. (rec. Dec. 1953). Excerpts from Salome, Op. 54 (rec. March 1954)
TESTAMENT SBT 1186 (F) (ADD) TT: 73:24

  (ALL OF THESE CDS HAVE BEEN DISCONTINUED)

Clemens Krauss (1893-1954) was born in Vienna. His mother, Clementina, was a dancer, singer and actress; it is not known just who his father was but it was rumoured to be the Archbishop of Vienna, perhaps even the Emperor Franz Josef. When only 9, his singing in a choir was praised by no less than Gustav Mahler. After varied musical studies including counterpoint as well as conducting, he set his goal on the Vienna Opera and Vienna Philharmonic. His conducting career began in the provinces, starting in Brno, where he learned repertory.  He came to the attention of Richard Strauss, co-director of the Vienna State Opera, who invited him to Vienna on short notice to conduct Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Der Rosenkavalier.  Soon after this the 28-year old conductor was offered a staff conducting position in Vienna, the beginning of his long and lustrous association with the famed composer/conductor. In 1929  Krauss was appointed music director of the Vienna State Opera. Krauss continued working with Strauss and became the composer's  artistic confidant, consultant, and later, librettist for Capriccio. He premiered Friedenstag, Arabella, Die Liebe der Danae and Capriccio, consulting with Strauss on changes in other operas as well. In 1934 Krauss accepted leadership of the Berlin State Opera and by doing so was accused of supporting the Nazi regime. Signed for a decade, he stayed less than two years, moving to Munich where he presented almost all of Strauss' operas. Krauss wanted to collaborate again with Strauss on another opera, suggesting the subject of Noah's Flood, which never came to fruition

In 1953 Krauss enjoyed a triumphant series of performances at Bayreuth, performing the Ring and Parsifal.  A complete Ring recorded live at the 1953 Festival is available on Laudis (LCD 3 4002/5)  with a cast that could not be equaled today including Astrid Varnay {Brunnhilde}, Ramon Vinay/Wolfgang Windgassen {Siegfried}, and  Hans Hotter {Wotan}. Krauss's Parsifal from the same Festival also is available on Rodolphe (RPC 32516.17) also with an all-star cast (George London, Josef Greindl, Ludwig Weber, Ramon Vinay, Martha M–dl).  Krauss was offered leadership of the Vienna State Opera, accepted it, but at the last moment Karl B–hm was selected because a rich industrialist friend of his threatened to withdraw financial support for the VSO unless B–hm was given the job. There was talk of Decca/London recording a complete Ring cycle (if that had happened would the famous Solti recording ever have existed?), as well as a film of Die Fledermaus. However, the 61-year old Krauss died of heart failure on tour in Mexico City in May 1954.

Krauss always had a warm association with the Vienna Philharmonic. In the early days of LP Decca recorded a series of Strauss symphonic works for the new medium. All of these, recorded from 1950/3 are included on the four Testament CDs, as well as excerpts from his famous 1954 recording of Salome. These performances by a famous Strauss interpreter of the past are welcome, but only a few  are exceptional. Heldenleben is decidedly unheroic; sample the opening few minutes and it is obvious this is no Mengelberg,Toscanini or Reiner on the podium. For some reason producers have divided Heldenleben into nine tracks instead of the usual six (even though the score itself has no scenario of any kind—it is rather understood that there are six, which are tracked on  other recordings). In 1992 London issued this Heldenleben (along with Don Juan, Also sprach Zarathustra and Don Quixote, on two CDs), long out of the catalog, but there it had the usual six track identification.

Krauss ignores Strauss's markings for the opening three trumpet statements in Zarathustra; they are to be consecutively louder—but then most other conductors do too including the composer in his 1942 VPO recording available on Music & Arts 10572. Don Quixote is exquisitely performed, with Pierre Fournier in top form; the Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite offers the loving interplay of the VPO's woodwinds and strings. Sinfonia Domestica also is successful,  although it doesn't march the directness and intensity of Eugene Ormandy's Philadelphia recording made 15 years earlier.  Aus Italien, Strauss's affectionate look at Italy ending with the rousing "Tarantella" based on the Neapolitan folk song  "Funiculì, Funiculà also seems to bring out the best in Krauss. Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony made arecording of the second movement, "On the Shores of Sorrento," A Westminster recording with Henry Swoboda, also made in Vienna, was the only other recording of the complete work.

The most impressive orchestral performance of all is the vibrant Till Eulenspiegel which is dynamic to the extreme, surely one of the most exciting versions every recorded. It was rumored some time ago that London/Decca would issue on CD the famous 1954 recording of Salome with Krauss and a strong cast headed by Christl Goltz, with Julius Patzak as Herod and Margareta Kenney as Herodias; it never happened, but at least we have these excerpts beginning  when Herod asks Salome to dance for him, the "Dance of the Seven Veils," and picking up the closing scene as Salome leans over the cistern awaiting her prize. Strauss praised Goltz's interpretation, but here she is heard too late in her career. To hear her in her best vocal state, listen to the 1948 recording on Berlin Classics (but avoid the 1963 stereo recording). She is a superb actress, has an appropriate youthful sound, but hardness and effortful singing are all too present in this 1954 recording.

All of these sessions were produced by Victor Olof with balance engineers Cyril Windebank and Gill Went.  When first issued in the early to mid-50s they sounded quite good, but in the harsh reality of today's exposÈ of deficiencies of earlier recordings it is evident that from a technical standpoint these recordings are lacking. There is a marked absence of bass, and virtually no resonance resulting in  steely strings.  Testament's transfers have tamed much of this; still most listeners probably will feel the highs are overly sharp. These new transfers are superior to London's 1992 issues.  At the same time these recordings were made Decca had available the famous Kenneth Wilkinson. One wonders what these recordings would have sounded like had "Wilkie" been the engineer.

R.E.B.