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Don Juan / Alpine Symphony Import


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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The best Blomstedt recording from San Francisco May 23 2006
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Herbert Blomstedt revitalized the San Francisco Sym., not by offering inspired musicmaking but by building the orchestra's confidence. He made them play as if they were better than they were, and today they retain the virtuosity he first brought out.

As a memento of his decade with them, this 1988 Alpine Sym. is spectcular. To us non-engineers it's baffling that the sound here should be so full, deep, and detailed while Karajan's Alpine Sym., recorded just a few years earlier, should be edgy, shrill, and ugly. Usually a staid and cautious interpreter, Blomstedt cuts loose here and goes for borke. The orchestra is pushed to the limits of speed, range, and dynamics, making for many thrills up the mountain and down again. I will never give up on the Karajan version as great musicmaking, but this Blomstedt account is the audiophile champ.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Scaling The Heights With Blomstedt In San Francisco May 13 2011
By Erik North - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Richard Strauss always liked to claim that he was a "first-rate composer of second-rate music." In terms of composing symphonic tone poems, however, his was anything but second-rate, whether the subject matter was based in Nietzsche ("Also Sprach Zarathustra"), Shakespeare ("Macbeth"), or the psychological and spiritual aspects of life and death ("Death And Transfiguration"). Two great examples of Strauss' compositional genius from different segments of his life are featured on this 1988 recording by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and their conductor laureate Herbert Blomstedt.

"Don Juan", the tone poem that established Strauss as a force in post-Wagner German Romanticism, was based on an unfinished verse play from 1844 by Nikolaus Lenau, itself derived from the same Don Juan legend that spawned one of Mozart's greatest operas, "Don Giovanni." Strauss' colorful depiction of Don Juan's many romantic conquests, which of course eventually end in his demise, are depicted over the course of a period of seventeen and a half minutes, primarily in the keys of E Minor and E Major, showing how much he had learned from Wagner's groundbreaking examples of stretching the orchestra--this and the fact that the size of the orchestra required is fairly substantial anyway. The success of the first performance of "Don Juan" in Weimar in 1890 established Strauss as a primary figure in the world of music from then on right up until his passing almost sixty years later.

His final tone poem, "An Alpine Symphony" (or "Eine Alpensinfonie") is a much more picturesque piece, depicting one climber's impressions of a climb through the Alps, possibly the Bavarian Alps in the southwestern part of Germany. For this work, which premiered in 1915 in Berlin under Strauss' direction, the orchestra required exceeded just about anything found in Mahler or Wagner, and included a wind machine depicting a violent Alpine thunderstorm. It is bookended by brooding but fascinating depictions of night in the foothills of the Alps, and remains one of the great orchestral showpieces, though the size of the orchestra required for it means it gets trotted out on rarer occasions than Strauss' other works.

Blomstedt is no stranger to Strauss, of course, having already done "Don Juan" and various other Strauss works while the prime conductor of Strauss' favored orchestra, the Dresden State Orchestra; but here, he has the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at a level of musical quality equal to, if not exceeding, even that legendary outfit, especially in "An Alpine Symphony", whose performance here may be exceeded only by the one given in 1975 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta (also for London/Decca). Indeed, Blomstedt's Strauss recordings with the S.F.S.O. were high points among many that he had while the orchestra's music director from 1985 to 1995, a tenure that may not have been as attention-grabbing as some, but which certainly placed San Francisco permanently on the classical map. This particular pairing is great proof of how good a pairing both this conductor and this orchestra were (and remain under Michael Tilson-Thomas' stewardship).
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An oldie, but the best of the bunch! Sept. 25 2011
By joeayah - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
There are dozens of recordings out there of the Alpine Symphony, but Herbert Blomstedt's performance with the San Franciso Symphony ranks at the top. He takes his time, separates all the sections well, and the CD has digital indications of the sections as marked in the score. This is invaluable to listeners in order to understand the progression of this enormous work. San Francisco players play like gods. Blomstedt is sadly overlooked as a great romantic conductor; his Bruckner is beyond compare. This is my "desert island" recording of Eine Alpensinfonie. Recording is 21 years old and counting, but you can't beat it!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Alpenhorn of Alpine Symphonies May 26 2012
By M. DeNero - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This Herbert Blomstedt/San Francisco Symphony version of Richard Strauss' Eine Alpensinfonie has a certain magic that is unrivaled. First, the sound quality is excellent, even a couple decades after release. It is open, detailed, and full-bodied. Mr. Blomstedt is sometimes derided by detractors as "boring". I do not agree! He may look more like a chemist or physicist than a renowned conductor, but that's unimportant - I frequently find his recordings to be among the most compelling available because of his precision and sense of structure. True, one rarely feels a sense of abandon with Blomstedt, but his sense of line, and of parts relating to the whole often result in a more satisfying rendition. This is the case with his Alpensinfonie. There are other versions where certain scenes might have more impact, where the sound or drive might be more electric, but Blomstedt's sense of upward sweep, culmination, and descent is outstanding. The phrasing and tempi are perfect as each scene seamlessly grows into the next. There are two highlights which demand special recognition: "Auf dem Gipfel" and "Sonnenuntergang". Both are sublime! The former is truly majestic, near perfect. The brass (especially trombones and horns) and the perfectly timed timpani trills as the orchestra builds to the restatement of "Sunrise" highlight an orchestra in full synch with the composer and conductor. The sense of hushed awe here giving way to awakening and reverence is remarkable. "Sunset" has a sense of valediction and transcendence that is truly moving - a radiant melancholy only Strauss could conceive. These two segments along with "Elegie" stand out to me as revelatory, but the rest of the performance is superb as well.

I have heard many Alpensinfonies and have owned 6. My opinions:

1) Blomstedt/SF Decca
2) Thielemann/VPO DG - Beautiful! Expansive but never slack. This really captures the essence of Strauss' majestic paean to the Alps. Rich sound of VPO strings comes through in a way that usual eludes recordings. Magnificent horns!
3) Previn/VPO Telarc - Not 100% satisfying as far as tempi and orchestral balance, but solid overall. Full-bodied but not flabby, nice recording. Special praise to VPO strings and horns.
4) Karajan/BPO DG - Karajan Gold. High energy, virtuosity abounds, but sound is electronic mush with little differentiation between orchestral sections. Would love to have listened in on recording sessions. Karajan Gold Edition sound quality is much better than original issue, but still leaves something to be desired.
5) Haitink/COA Philips - Good, but a little paunchy. It's been while - should revisit.
6) Luisi/Dresden Sony - Not bad, but not great either. A little too flabby for my taste, and the sound has a strange graininess to it.
7) Kempe/Dresden EMI - Spent nearly $50 on Japan import, and while the performance is great, the sound quality is so terribly compressed I wonder if it is legitimate. The recording is only from the early 70s and others of same vintage sound fine. Counterfeit?

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