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Pro-Ject Records Richard Strauss Don Juan, Tod und Verklarung, Also Sprach Zarathustra 180g Import 2LP Review

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Press Release: Pro-Ject Records releases the Vienna Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan LP


Side A: Don Juan, Op. 20

Side B: Tod und Verklarung, Op. 24

Side C & D: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (1-7)

  1. Prelude (Sonnenaufgang)
  2. Von den Hinterweltlern
  3. Von der grossen Sehnsucht
  4. Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften
  5. Das Grablied
  6. Von der Wissenschaft
  7. Der Genesende (Teil 1)
  8. Der Genesende (Teil 2)
  9. Das Tanzlied
  10. Das Nachtwandlerlied
  • A Pro-Ject Records Exclusive Release
  • 180g Premium Quality Vinyl Double LP
  • AAA Production – Pure Analogue Recording, Mixing & Mastering
  • Remastered from the Original Master Tapes! Pressed at Pallas

Hallmark Recordings of the Vienna Philharmonic re-issued by Pro-Ject Audio Systems: “Analogue only” sets the Standard of Sound Quality.

Elusive Disc


The Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan had been closely associated with two orchestras predominantly throughout his life, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. He loved both orchestras, noting famously that, “If I tell the Berliners to step forward, they do it. If I tell the Viennese to step forward, they do it. But then they ask why.” A pseudo paternal relationship between Karajan and the VP would ensue and it was with this ensemble that he made his last recording, the Bruckner Symphony No. 7, three months before his death in April 1989 at the ripe old age of 81. This notable event closed a cycle in the conductor’s life, for thirty years prior it was with the Vienna Philharmonic that the conductor made his first recording of the Richard Strauss tone poem, Also Sprach Zarathustra, the subject of this review.

The year was 1959. A young, fifty-one years old Herbert von Karajan had just signed on with Decca and made the seminal Strauss tone poem his first recording with the record label (LXT 5524 mono, SXL 2154 stereo). Decca had only one prior recording of the work, from 1950, with Clemens Krauss conducting. In Karajan’s lifetime, he would have authorized the release of two additional recordings of the piece, in 1974 and 1984, both with the Berlin Philharmonic and under the Deutsche Grammophon label.

My favorite of the three has been the powerful 1984 digital recording, the last of the maestro’s, remastered and re-issued in the nineties posthumously in the Karajan Gold edition. It runs for 35 minutes, contains the fullest- and most modern-sounding orchestration of the maestro’s recordings, and represents the most penetrating and definitive reading of the tone poem. The level of understanding and presentation of the music, especially in track 4, “Of Joy and Passion,” is priceless and peerless. Still, in energy and liveliness, the conductor’s 28-minute, 1959 rendition may reign supreme. Faster readings under many other conductors’ direction are hollow exercises in general, providing minimal emotion, and are little more than a misdirected and futile attempt in excitement induction. Then, there is Karajan.

Karajan had mellowed and slowed down noticeably in his later (digital) recordings, which is not necessarily a bad thing for us. But many can also appreciate the unrelenting insights his music generates even in his faster early days. For the energy of youth is certainly not lost even on the Karajan’s person. Known for his calculated, caring and meticulous approach, the maestro nonetheless revealed a rare flamboyance of youth expertly captured via the period’s archival technology and techniques. But the Vienna Philharmonic of 1959 didn’t necessarily or predominantly comprise only young musicians, and the playing demonstrated a level of mature confidence and proficiency none has surpassed to date.

The 1984 digital recording comes with a side billing, Don Juan, Op. 20, which again is slower at 18:02 against the 17:11 duration of the 1959 reading of the same piece, which is part of this 2LP set. The earlier recording has greater tonal contrast and higher drama, accounting for a very engaging listening, and it is now my default Don Juan. On top of that, the Pro-Ject double LP-set includes another gem of late-romantic classical music, the 23:55 reading of the composer’s Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24. It is also faster than Karajan’s 1983 digital reading of 25:33.

For readers preferring the fuller sounding orchestration, the digital recording cannot be beaten, and it is the maestro and the Berliners at their highest form. Play the LP version on the Clearaudio turntable with Koetsu Jade Platinum cartridge and it sounds even more impressive. But there will be Karajan fans preferring the more energetic 1959 reading. This is the only other Death and Transfiguration under the Karajan baton that I know of, and one worth multiple listenings in single sessions.

The sound of this new 2020 Pro-Ject re-release is softer than the later DG recordings, slightly less detailed but extraordinarily full-bodied, so I dial the volume way up. This LP is perfect for higher level playback, and the fun I have with this recording via the big Sound Lab panels is epic. I am fond of the oil paintings featured on many Deutsche Grammophon album covers from the sixties and seventies and the cover art of this Decca-original, Pro-Ject double-LP set is an 1856 Karl Millner oil painting. Nicely rendered, beautiful as ever. Only 2,000 of this set will be released and despite being early in the queue, mine is already number 763/2,000. And I’m getting a second set for the day when the current set is worn out and I am sent a new flagship cartridge to review.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin



PS Audio DirectStream Power Plant 20 AC regenerator

Acoustic Sciences Corporation TubeTraps
Audio Reference Technology Analysts EVO interconnects, power cable
Audio Reference Technology Analysts SE interconnects, power cables
Audio Reference Technology Super SE interconnects, power cables
Stealth Audio Cables Helios phono cable

Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable
AMG 12J2 tonearm
Koetsu Jade Platinum moving coil cartridge
Top Wing Suzaku coreless straight-flux cartridge

Pass Laboratories Xs Phono
Pass Laboratories Xs Preamp
Pass Laboratories XA200.8 pure class A monoblocks
Bricasti Design M28 class AB monoblocks
Margules Audio u-280SC Black ultralinear tube monoblocks
Sound Lab Majestic 645 electrostatic panels


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