Friday, March 23, 2018

Sir Andrew Davis conducts Richard Strauss

No. 274  of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at



There are many angles that I can use to introduce today’s podcast dedicated to Richard Strauss:
  • Two albums from my personal Vinyl collection shared cover to cover;
  • Works that exemplify two of Strauss’ main genres: lieder and tone poems
  • Works all conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

The two principal works showcased today are Strauss’ Four Last Songs, and Ein heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), which as a tone poem provides sections where the solo violin plays a key role.
Strauss produced Lieder throughout his career. The Four Last Songs are among his best known, along with "Ruhe, meine Seele!", "Cäcilie", "Morgen!", "Heimliche Aufforderung", "Traum durch die Dämmerung", and others (some of these are featured as “filler tracks” from the album I selected for today’s podcast). Richard Strauss’ wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna , was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain important soprano roles. Strauss's songs have always been popular with audiences and performers, and are generally considered by musicologists—along with many of his other compositions—to be masterpieces.

In 1948, Strauss wrote his last work, the Four Last Songs for soprano and orchestra. He reportedly composed them with Kirsten Flagstad in mind and she gave the first performance, which was recorded. Today’s soloist, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, has recorded this song cycle with Davis and later with Georg Solti.

At the time of this Strauss/LSO recording, Sir Andrew was in the midst of his longstanding association with the Toronto Symphony (1975-1988, now its Conductor Laureate). Midway through his Toronto tenure, CBC Records began commercial venture, the SM-5000 series, digital recordings featuring mainly the orchestras in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary as well as its in-house CBC Radio orchestra.

In 1986, Davis and the TSO released their version of Heldenleben, featuring its then-concertmaster, Steven Staryk. Generally agreed to be autobiographical in nature, Heldenleben contains more than thirty quotations from Strauss's earlier works, including Also sprach Zarathustra, Till Eulenspiegel, and Death and Transfiguration. Davis re-recorded the work 30 years later with the Melbourtne Symphony Orchestra (an ensemble under his tutelage since 2013).

Interesting footnote, Steven  Staryk was one of the “Symphony Six” – members of the Toronto Symphony  who were denied permission to enter the United States for a concert tour in November 1951. He later came to prominence when chosen by Sir Thomas Beecham as concertmaster and soloist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at age 24 and was the youngest musician, at that time, to fill the dual role. He later held the position with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony. His discography of over 190 compositions ranks him as one of the most recorded classical Canadian musicians.

I think you will love this music too.

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