STRAUSS Also sprach Zarathustra MAHLER Totenfeier
Those familiar with Vladimir Jurowski’s Strauss from the concert hall will have some idea of what to expect from his Also sprach Zarathustra. It’s big on structure and pacing, with the feeling of an analytical musical mind being rigorously applied to a score that can, in the wrong hands, sprawl and spin out of control. There’s an impressive single-mindedness throughout, married to a reluctance to get carried away: Jurowski holds back in the final sections of the ‘Tanzlied’, for example, saving everything up for the grand climax at fig 44 (at 26'40" – Pentatone unhelpfully gives us just a single track for each work on the disc). The orchestral sound is clean and lucid, too, and captured beautifully by the engineers.
The flipside is that it’s a performance that can feel reined in. The famous opening, though not actually significantly faster than many well-known versions, feels short on expansiveness (and I find the timps rather boomy). There could be more Dionysiac swirl in the dance, more fire in ‘Von den Leidenschaften und Freuden’. Some of the solo work, though difficult to fault technically, also strikes me as undercharacterised. If you’re after clear sense and lucidity, give this a listen; if you’re looking for an Also sprach to really sweep you off your feet, I’d stick with Karajan’s classic account or, more recently, the CBSO and Nelsons.
The Totenfeier coupling obviously enters a rather less competitive field, albeit one that already features a recording by Jurowski himself – a sinewy, taut live performance with the OAE. This Berlin account is every bit as convincing but favours an imposing grandeur over its predecessor’s exciting rawness. And, as with the Strauss, it benefits a great deal from Jurowski’s patience: the build-up as the march gradually picks itself up from around 12'50", for example, is masterfully controlled.
The programme’s final work causes a certain confusion. Pentatone’s booklet essay notes that this 1876 Symphonic Prelude for orchestra is now usually ascribed to Bruckner but it is listed as being by Mahler in the track-listing and referred to as such in Jurowski’s own little introductory note. Whatever the case, though, the expansive, eloquent performance it receives here tops off a worthwhile disc.