Andris Nelsons / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra; Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegel

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The three symphonic poems on this 2014 Orfeo release are among the most popular of Richard Strauss' orchestral works, and the live renditions by Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra give them considerable energy and color. The recordings of Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan, and Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche are drawn from several performances given in Birmingham Symphony Hall between 2011 and 2013, and as such they represent best parts of those concerts, though careful editing and mixing have made them seamless. The close microphone placement provides clear details, and many passages have the heightened presence of chamber music, so virtually every note can be heard clearly. Note the vibrant sound of the lowest instruments, particularly the contrabassoon, bass clarinet, tuba, and double basses, which add depth and occasionally a truly menacing quality to the music, notably in the darker sections of Also sprach Zarathustra. Nelsons' interpretations are spontaneous, fluid, and a little free in tempo, so it takes some getting accustomed to his use of rubato and rather rhapsodic treatment of the material. But this by no means diminishes the excitement and flamboyance of the playing, which shows the orchestra at its liveliest and most spectacular.

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