This release can be placed without hesitation beside those of the other great Richard Strauss ensembles – the Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw, The Dresden Staatskapelle and the Berlin Philharmonic. It was fascinating to hear the slightly kapellmeisterish Sawallisch in Also Sprach Zarathustra, the quintessentially bourgeois Strauss’s take on Nietzsche’s weird ruminations on the meaning of life.
The result is outstanding, both interpretively and sonically, as Sawallisch completely avoids the blowzy schlockfest this work can become in the wrong hands. Nor does he attempt to achieve a more Hollywood effect by interfering with the duration of the opening chords. The Heldenleben is another superb achievement. This hero is less the armchair-bound Colonel Blimp of, say, Mariss Janssons – I always think Mahler nailed his carping critics far more effectively in the Rondo-Burleske movement of his Ninth Symphony than Strauss does.
Sawallisch also resists the tendency to slow down unduly in the two quieter sections, which can turn them into a becalmed and interminable coda. Opting for the ending without horns also works better. The perspective and inner detail make this a demonstration-quality CD.