Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Reviewed on Wed 01 May, 2013

This is the first (and finest) of Herbert von Karajan's three commercial recordings of Richard Strauss's autobiographical portrait-in-sound. It was set down in March 1959 within the kindly acoustic of Berlin's Jesus-Christus-Kirche and shows this formidable partnership at its early peak. Karajan's empathy with this mighty score is infectious, the Berliners' contribution past praise in its virtuosity and fiery dedication, and there's a wonderfully eloquent contribution from leader Michel Schwalbé (in the role of the composer's wife, Pauline). The Wagner coupling was recorded some 18 years later in the orchestra's then new home of the Philharmonie. Karajan directs with unwavering grip, but the sound lacks something in glowing warmth, and there's also a touch of slickness about the playing that tends to get in the way of the music. No matter, for the Strauss alone this is a mandatory purchase.
–Andrew Achenbach