Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra; Mahler: Totenfeier

Vladimir Jurowski / Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra

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Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra; Mahler: Totenfeier Review

by Blair Sanderson

For this audiophile showcase on Pentatone, Vladimir Jurowski and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin present one assured masterpiece, an early version of a symphonic movement, and a minor piece of juvenilia. Richard Strauss' tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, dominates the program with its powerful Nietszchean program and opulent orchestration, and the performance is outstanding for its high energy and extraordinary details, no mean feat with such a dense score. Somewhat less essential are Gustav Mahler's symphonic poem, Totenfeier, which was later transformed into the first movement of the Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “Resurrection,” and the almost completely unknown Symphonisches Präludium, a reconstruction by Albrecht Gürsching of a dubious 1876 fragment. Totenfeier's later inclusion in the symphony has led some to regard it as essentially the same piece, except for Mahler's numerous revisions of the music and changes of the orchestration. Yet despite its interesting history, Totenfeier has never worked as an independent concert piece, and only a few recordings have included it as filler. However, the Symphonisches Präludium has even less standing, even among die-hard Mahlerians who snap up everything he wrote. Jurowski's inclusion of it seems motivated by curiosity about Mahler's earliest efforts, rather than from artistic necessity. Strauss fans will want to hear this hybrid SACD, though it probably holds less interest for Mahler aficionados.

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