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 Favourites, Richard Strauss

Richard StraussThe Strauss discography is so vast that I couldn't possibly attempt anything even vaguely comprehensive, so I've mainly limited myself to the more popular works, with one or two lesser-known pieces thrown in for good measure.

I've tried to select as wide a range of conductors and singers as possible, including some old favourites as well as choices that are perhaps more unexpected. Of course tastes vary, and no doubt some will disagree with my choices, but I believe that all of the discs below show off the wonderful music of Strauss to the fullest.

Operas

It almost goes without saying that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin treats us to a masterclass in how to sing Strauss, supported by first-class performances from Teresa Stich-Randall as Sophie and Christa Ludwig as Octavian. Throw in a young Nicolai Gedda in the brief role of the Italian Singer, and you'll hear why this 1956 Herbert von Karajan recording remains top of the list.

Available Format: 3 CDs

You can't really go wrong with the combination of Gwyneth Jones, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Lucia Popp, all under the peerless Carlos Kleiber in a lavish, opulent production from the Bavarian State Opera. Popp and Fassbaender's tender Act Two duet is a joy, and the final trio is just glorious.

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

This may strike some as a somewhat unusual choice, but I love hearing Montserrat Caballé in repertoire not usually associated with her. She brings a youthful vigour to the role, and her extraordinary breath control and legendary pianissimo are used to astonishing effect, especially in the final scene.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Set in a debauched palace in Nazi Germany, David McVicar's controversial, blood-spattered production doesn't shy away from the opera's more gruesome moments. Nadja Michael offers plenty of manic intensity, and there are impressive performances from Thomas Moser as Herod and Michaela Schuster as Herodias.

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

What a cast this recording has! Deborah Voigt as Ariadne and Ben Heppner as Bacchus are ideal choices, with Natalie Dessay's Zerbinetta as the perfect foil, and Anne Sofie von Otter splendid in the role of the Composer, all scintillatingly conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Birgit Nilsson is at the top of her game in this searing performance. Georg Solti conducts with drive and ferocity, with the explosive passages in the score suiting him well, and there's a chilling contribution from Regina Resnik as Elektra's unhinged mother, Klytämnestra.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Die Frau ohne Schatten includes some of the most demanding vocal roles that Strauss ever wrote, and Georg Solti's cast are more than up to the task: Hildegard Behrens as the Dyer's Wife and Julia Varady as the Empress dominate, but I chose this recording for the casting of Plácido Domingo as the Emperor. He certainly won't be to everyone's taste in this music, but personally I just revel in the sumptuous singing he treats us to!

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sings the role of the Countess in this charming recording of Strauss's final opera, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Nicolai Gedda play the parts of her competing suitors to perfection as they debate which is superior: words or music?

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Not one of Strauss's best-known operas, but I wanted to include this for the ravishing singing of Lucia Popp in the title role. The final scene, as Daphne is transformed into a tree, includes some of Strauss's most beautiful music, and the strings of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink excel themselves.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Orchestral Works

Bernard Haitink and the LSO give us a gripping, masterfully-paced account of this Alpine adventure. The climax of the storm is so shattering that it almost sounds as if parts of the Barbican are collapsing! Brass playing is stunning throughout: the trombones' pedal G as the protagonists reach the summit is worth the price of the disc alone!

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Fritz Reiner made many classic recordings of Strauss's music, and I think one of the best is this dramatic, fiery performance of Tod und Verklärung with the Vienna Philharmonic. With biting brass and radiant strings, it's an exhilarating experience.

Available Format: 2 CDs

Pierre Fournier is the solo cellist in this recording conducted by Herbert von Karajan. The Berlin players clearly enjoy the orchestral effects Strauss calls for, including the bleating wind and brass in the episode where Don Quixote encounters a flock of sheep and mistakes them for an approaching army. Fournier treats us to some incredibly moving playing in the final section as Don Quixote dies.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

David Zinman conducts the Tonhalle Zurich in this marvellous recording of Strauss's semi-autobiographical tone poem. The horn parts of this piece are notoriously fiendish, but the Zurich players despatch every single bar with fearless aplomb.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Top-notch recordings of the two Horn Concertos from Barry Tuckwell (with István Kertész conducting the LSO) and a lovely, sweet-toned performance of the Oboe Concerto from Gordon Hunt are the highlights of this collection of the complete concertos.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

I've already chosen CD versions of both of these works, but I just couldn't leave out this DVD of Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the London Symphony Orchestra: this is quite simply a phenomenal performance. As you would expect from the LSO, the brass are electrifying from start to finish, and leader Alexander Barantschik delivers the virtuosic violin solos with effortless ease.

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

Songs

So many superb performances of these songs to choose from, but in the end I always find myself coming back to Jessye Norman. Kurt Masur's tempos are often dangerously slow, and yet Norman's unfailingly creamy tone and her ability to sing seemingly endless phrases translate into performances of utter beauty and conviction.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

If you want to explore the wealth of songs that Strauss wrote, then there's no better place to start than this budget 6-CD box, with the unmatchably classy singing of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, accompanied by Gerald Moore at the piano. All of the familiar songs, such as Morgen, Allerseelen, and Cäcilie, are included, alongside lesser-known gems such as Traum durch die Dämmerung and Rote Rosen.

Available Format: 6 CDs