Reiner: R. Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra + Don Juan - RCA VICS-1265 (UK)
Jacket VG / LP NM
This outstanding LP from RCA (VICS-1265, English Decca pressing, pink label, stereo) features Fritz Reiner’s justly famous accounts of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra Op. 30 and Don Juan Op. 20, both recorded in the rich acoustics of Orchestra Hall, Chicago the former on 8 March 1954 and the latter on 6 February 1960, both with the mighty Chicago Symphony Orchestra on resplendent form – the first truly great Strauss recording of the early stereo era and still a benchmark recording more than 55 years on – simply tremendous!
The stampers for this particular copy are 2S for Side 1 and 1S for Side 2.
With Karajan and Kempe, Reiner was among the undisputed masters of Strauss’ music during the last century and this amazing performance explains why – a gramophone classic.
Of RCA’s “Fritz Reiner Collection” CD re-issue of these performances, the superb critic David Gutman wrote in his December 1992 review for The Gramophone:
“It is astonishing to reflect that this earlier of Reiner's two Chicago recordings of Also sprach Zarathustra was made on March 8th, 1954 in stereo when Toscanini was still (just) recording in low-fl in New York's Carnegie Hall. The sound may be tonally fierce by current standards (less so than many oftpraised Mercury reissues) but the balance is fully acceptable, with the first and second violins set close to the listener (and the microphones) on either side of the podium, and the basses hard left.
“Reiner's 1954 Also sprach is arguably more characteristic than his 1962 RCA remake (7/88). That is to say, it is even more intense and extrovert. In his second year with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the conductor was already getting a thrilling response from the strings, although woodwind intonation could be a problem. Confident and well played as it is, the spectacular opening sunrise inevitably lacks the impact of, say, Preyin's Telarc recording (the organ is particularly disappointing). Nor is there the dark solemnity of and detail in the bass familiar from Karajan's DO versions. What we have instead is a measure of raw passion and forward thrust unequalled on disc. In reflective passages, conductor and/or engineers display some reluctance to achieve a real pianissimo, but as the tempo builds Reiner invariably creates great excitement and the orchestral playing is marvellous.”
Incidentally, the splendid liner notes on the reverse side are by Jay S. Harrison.