GMCD 7204 – Also sprach Zarathustra & Don Quixote by Richard Strauss

Philharmonia Orchestra, Djong Victorin Yu – Conductor, James Kreger – Cello, Roger Benedict – Viola

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Fanfare – September 2015

In a crowded field replete with greats, this disc manages to hold its head high. The conductor is all but unknown to me, while the orchestra is massively familiar (the Royal Festival Hall, the orchestra’s home, is, if not on my doorstep, hardly far away).
There is an unfortunate anomaly, in that the photo of the orchestra on the booklet reverse is in front of the Royal Festival Hall, as previously noted the home of the Philharmonia; whereas the recording hails from the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, a shortish train ride away into the South London hinterlands. Neither acoustic is ideal, actually, so it is good that the Guild engineers have been so successful in maintaining the orchestra’s magnificently warm sound in Croydon, so perfect for this music. Yu also obviously has a keen ideal for texture and detail. Both are heard to maximal effect in the impassioned third section of Also sprach, “Von der grossen Sehnsucht.” The bass pedal of the opening is more felt than heard, surely the intent; the trumpets and brass in that famous opening positively resplendent (the Philharmonia brass is really only rivaled to this day by the London Symphony’s). The hushed delicacy, so perfectly Straussian, of “Von der Wissenschaft,” is wonderful; perhaps the opening of “Der Genesende” could have been more robust, but it gains strength organically as it oozes forth. Yu’s way with the ebb and flow of Strauss’s music, both in Also sprach and in Don Quixote, is entirely natural; of course Karajan and Kempe adherents will justifiably point in the direction of their favorites, but one has to admire the freshness of Yu’s approach. Hugh Bean’s solo violin contributions are a constant source of delight, and Yu brings a lovely, and apt, sense of dance to “Das Tanz-Lied.”
Yu’s account of Don Quixote is beautifully, delicately presented. We may have no highprofile soloists here of the caliber of Rostropovich, but that chimes in with the feel of an ensemble effort. Although scored on a large scale, Strauss’s scores do demand a high awareness of chamber music; not to mention accuracy. Quicksilver moments such as the onset of the sixth variation (“Die verzauberte Dulcinea”) are beautifully handled. Roger Benedict is a superbly musical Sancho Panza (viola), while James Kreger’s cello Don is positively luminous in the finale. Again, Yu’s timing is spot-on (the Viel langsamer section of the third variation, for example). This is a most satisfying Don Quixote; in fact the whole disc seems to penetrate to the heart of Straussian expression. Sorab K. Modi contributes excellent, detailed notes. Each section of each piece is separately tracked. Recommended.
Colin Clarke


When I first saw this I thought of all the Reiners, Kempes and Karajans that had been here before and asked myself: was it worth doing? Well, I have to say it was. Yu shares with the great Straussians of the past an ability to maintain a Mozartian clarity in the most crowded textures, to create excitement without hysteria and to languish without losing the basic pulse. Furthermore, the beautifully balanced recording creates an impression of wide dynamic range without actually going beyond what can reasonably be encompassed in a normal living-room. The overall impression is of great musicality and in fact after a while I found myself listening to the music rather than the performance. Would that this happened more often!
In Don the soloists are balanced as members of the orchestra and their playing is similarly closer to chamber music than concerto-style projection. Since Strauss wished to have the parts played by the front desks of the orchestra this would seem all to the good, and for most of the time it does so. But it has to be said that the “greats” have got an emotional charge out of the Don’s death which is missing here. What should be the culmination of the whole great work seems a bit bland.
All the same, this is an issue that can be recommended with every confidence. The Reiners, Kempes and Karajans are never going to be exactly surpassed, but here is a slap in the face to the “they-don’t-make-them-like-that-any-more” brigade. And with excellent notes on music and performers in three languages, full documentation and numerous track entries, Guild have clearly taken a lot of care over the “total product”.
Christopher Howell
Also Sprach Zarathustra


Don Quixote