Conductor Vasily Petrenko has lots of competition in the marketplace for recordings of these two Richard Strauss tone poems. Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30, made famous not only by Elvis Presley, but by director Stanley Kubrick, who used it in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The version Kubrick used, by Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, is still in the catalog, and an even earlier one, with Fritz Reiner leading Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is an oldie-but-goodie. With giants like these in the air, you can hardly blame Petrenko for swinging for the fences, and for many this reading of Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40, will be a fine addition to the library; with strong, state-of-the-art sound work from the Oslo Concert Hall. The album is divided only into two tracks, one for each work, probably desirable in that many hearings will originate from online files. Plunge in and sample from the very beginning: the sunrise scene of Also sprach Zarathustra is taken deliberately, with a sense of trying to wring out every possible shade of color. Petrenko's Also sprach Zarathustra clocks in at more than 34 minutes, against an average length of less than 29; you may find it majestic or a bit overwrought, but an X factor in the performance's favor is that the Oslo Philharmonic seems to be in Petrenko's corner, and the performance is somehow quite stirring. Ein Heldenleben moves along at a steadier clip, and Petrenko seems more at ease with its ongoing narrative than with the sequence of ideas, loosely established in Nietzsche's essay, of Also sprach Zarathustra; Ein Heldenleben is also considerably slower than normal. Audition closely to see if Petrenko's readings are your cup of tea, but they are well worth hearing.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim