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Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos Original recording remastered, Box set

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Original recording remastered, Box set, September 21, 1999
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This first studio version of Ariadne, from 1954, was long considered the gold standard and has stood the test of time exceptionally well. London's Philharmonia Orchestra produces a gorgeous sound, sensitive and refined in detail. Karajan shapes an often rapturously poetic account, replete with broad and lingering tempi and an expertly calibrated sense of balance--features that likewise mark the 1956 Rosenkavalier that many count as one of the conductor's highest achievements. Irmgard Seefried confirms her status as the composer's unparalleled interpreter. Her detailed characterization confirms the rightness of Strauss's instinct to make his young idealist a travesti role. Rita Streich's uniquely styled polish and sweet purity of tone make her one of Zerbinetta's most memorable exponents, while Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's Ariadne (surprisingly, a role she never sang on stage) abounds in vocal splendor and cuts through the inherent abstractness of the character with dramatic insight. Karajan's carefully measured approach proves a trifle too deliberate for the commedia scenes, but his sense of finesse shapes a dreamlike, misty fabric (almost suggestive of Wagner's Norns) for the trio of nymphs; their chorus "Töne, töne," resounds with silky translucence. Above all, Karajan establishes a credible throughline in the meandering textures of the final scene between Ariadne and Bacchus. Karajan's scope ensures that this recording is the ideal embarkation point for one of Strauss's most enchanting creations. --Thomas May
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
  • Composer: Richard Strauss
  • Audio CD (September 21, 1999)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Original recording remastered, Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: EMI Classics
  • ASIN: B00000K4GG
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,901 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Since this opera is being performed this season at the Metropolitan Opera House and is, actually, not ever long out of their repertoire, many first-time listeners will want to buy a CD set to hear before actually sitting in the audience. I believe that this is the set to purchase.
The cast could not possibly be bettered anywhere: Elizabeth Schwartzkopf in the title role, Rita Streich as the coquette, Zerbinetta, (with an unbelievably difficult aria that reaches the stratosphere) and Irmgard Seefried as the put-upon Composer were all Strauss veterans and obviously came to this recording at the peek of their powers. In the heroic and vocally punishing role of "Bacchus," Rudolf Schock is fine. The Philharmonia Orchestra plays this lush music beautifully and the sound for 1957 does not get in the way. No, it doesn't compare to the spectacular sound of the much more recent recording on Philips starring Jessye Norman, but it never detracts.
This is a gorgeous recording of wonderful, memorable music set to a clever libretto. Buying one recording of the work? This is the way to go.
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Format: Audio CD
This was the prime recommendation for this work until recent recordings, especially the one with Norman, Gruberova, and Paul Frey in the most difficult role of Bacchus. Still, Karajan's is a classic of its own. Rita Streich's Zerbinetta is gorgeous. But Irmgard Seefried steals the show as the composer, hands down. Her portrayal alone is worth much more than the price of this bargain. If you love this subtle score as I do, you will want this set and also Kurt Masur's.
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Format: Audio CD
This 1954 recording has been surpassed in sound but never in performance quality. This is an outstanding ensemble effort led by the relatively young Karajan's elegant and witty conducting. The Philharmonia is in vintage form and responds beautifully to his baton.

In the title role, Schwarzkopf turns in a wonderful performance of a role she never sang onstage. Walter Legge, her husband and producer of the recording, wrote years later that she "hankered" after the role but circumstances always prevented it from going into her stage repertory. Her "lieder" style of operatic singing is well suited to the nuances of the part and her singing of Ariadne's first lament is very moving. In contrast, she turns makes an appropriate comic impression with her limited appearance as the haughty prima donna of the prologue. If you are allergic to her style, you won't care much for it, because it is a textbook example of how she brought a character to life through verbal nuance and vocal color. She was also still in her 30s at the time and in fresh voice. Other sopranos, Janowitz and Norman for instance, have brought a fuller timbre to Ariadne's demanding music but Schwarzkopf's artistry and finespun tone are treasurable in their own right.

Irmgard Seefried's Composer is probably her finest achievement on disc and my favorite traversal of the part. It is a wonderful memento of a great singer.

Rita Streich is an expert and comic Zerbinetta who sails easily through the fiendish coloratura of her big aria. She is also seductive in the prologue and the mainspring of the ensembles. No matter the difficulties of the part, she never loses the sweetness of her youthful tone.

Rudolf Shock does as well as the recorded competition as Bacchus, Frey and King possibly excepted.
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Format: Audio CD
Strauss's chamber opera, preceded by a theatrical spoof as a first act, has had devoted -- even besotted -- admirers since it first appeared. There have been half a dozen notable recordings in the modern era, but I think only four are serious rivals for top place. Let me give the pluses and minuses of each as fairly as I can.

1954 Karajan (EMI) - The Karajan set hasn't been out of print for over fifty years, and its two biggest pluses are unarguable: a dream cast of hand-picked singers and the young Karajan's superb conducting. Schwarzkopf gives one of her greatest performances in the title role, a miracle of technique and characterization. All the other roles match hers in theatricalaity and freshness. Rita Streich amazes with her accuracy and briliance in the coloratura role of Zerbinetta. The weak link (this will become a familiar theme) is the tenor who must engage the voice-killing role of Bacchus. Rudolf Schock sounds tight and strained, but overall he's doing as good a job as all but the very best.
The minues are few, consisting mainly of the boxy, dry mono sound that remastering can't disguise. At least EMI has managed to remove some shirlliness from the high frequencies, and one can say that the final product is quite listenable.

1987 Levine (DG) - I am skipping ovver a Sixties recording under Kempe (EMI) that some critics rate very high. I much prefer James Levine, who made the first recording of Ariadne on CD. He leads members of the Vienna Phil. in a sweet-toned, deliberately paced reading that is quite sumptuous. His cast mirrors a very good night at either the Met or the Vienna State Opera. Tomova-Sintov gives her all dramatically as Ariadne, and despite some vocal strain, she triumphs in the role of the vulnerable stranded heroine.
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