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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome (1905) [99’01]
Eva Marton (soprano) Salome; Heinz Zednik (tenor) Herodes; Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo) Herodias; Bernd Weikl (baritone) Jokanaan; Keith Lewis (tenor) Narraboth, second Nazarene; Gabriele Schreckenbach (mezzo) A Page of Herodias; James O’Neal (tenor), Peter Maus (tenor), Karl Markus (tenor), Donald George (tenor), Reinhard Beyer (bass) Five Jews; Victor von Hameln (bass) Nazarene, second soldier; Julian Robbins (bass) first soldier, Reinhold Beyer (bass) Cappadocian;
Berliner Philharmoniker/Zubin Mehta.
Rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, on November 3rd-8th and 12th, 1990.
SONY CLASSICAL SM2K90450 [53’21 + 45’40]

Hardly the most appealing opera, Salome, but one in which the plot’s more repellent elements must be portrayed in the full light of day for full effectiveness. Its appeal relies on its ability to shock, and much of the fascination we feel is surely not too far removed from that which makes drivers slow down to ogle at road-traffic accidents.

Salome has fared well on disc, with Solti (Decca) and Sinopoli (DG) leading the field (see Marc Bridle’s excellent survey . ). Mehta’s 1990 recording has a fair smattering of star names, and one of the World’s greatest orchestras. Yet all does not gel, and the fault seems to lie squarely at Zubin Mehta’s feet. Generally in his work, he has a tendency to carve his way through the music. He conducts with little subtlety - garish works such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade therefore suit him well (as proven by a Prom last year. ). There is more subtlety in Strauss’s score than Mehta is willing to admit to, and a good deal more raw emotion, too. Try the Interlude (CD1, track 11) which, while fairly manic, still has a fair way to go in this direction. The sad fact is that the final section of the score (basically from after the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’) is the best part of this performance, but one has to wade through the rest of the opera to get to it. Even then, it hardly provides any competition from rivals such as the well-established Solti (Decca) or the Sinopoli (DG), one of that much-missed conductor’s finest recordings. When Strauss rather obviously portrays the wind blowing in his tone-painting, the thought that this is Mehta’s level is well-nigh inescapable (CD 1, track 12, around 12’30). The ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ is remarkably light to begin with - a true dance, one might argue. But a spot-lit recording and Mehta’s achievement of only a fair head of steam means that eroticism is firmly off the menu. Only at the beginning of Salome’s long scene (CD 2 track 6) does Mehta maintain the dramatic undercurrent with any real effectiveness.

Salome is the original wild child. Not so Eva Marton, though, who right from the start is too self-consciously beautiful of voice. There is no doubting Marton’s ability to negotiate difficult lines and her repeated entreaties to be presented with the head of Jokanaan reveal that she can do fury, too.

A singer who seems to grow into his part as the performance progresses is Bernd Weikl, as Jokanaan. The opening statements leave little lasting impression, a real shame as these are an intrinsic part of the ongoing atmosphere.

Brigitte Fassbaender, a singer with a wealth of experience, portrays Herodias as a commanding and over-bearing woman, memorably almost using Sprachgesang on occasion. She represents one of the few highlights of this set. Heinz Zednik is a fussy, almost Alberich-like Herodes, an interpretation that works particularly well in the passages immediately preceding the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ - the intimation of evil is well-projected. Immediately thereafter, one can almost see Herodes rubbing his hands in glee. Keith Lewis is a lyrical Narraboth.

The BPO is a tremendous vehicle to have at one’s disposal. A pity Mehta is unable to capitalise fully on his good fortune - there is little sense of strain, all is almost too easy; a pity also that the Sony recording (Producer Steven Epstein) also fails to show the orchestra in the best light. True, this product is budget price. Yet a work of the stature and significance of Salome surely deserves better. As usual with this series, documentation is minimal, consisting of a brief synopsis (very brief) and track-listing.

Colin Clarke

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