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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome (1905) Final Scenea; Dance of the Seven Veils. Five Orchestral Songsa: Cäcilie, Op. 27 No. 1 (1894) [1'58]; Wiegenlied, Op. 41 No. 1 (1899) [4'18]; Ich liebe dich, Op. 37 No. 2 (1896-8) [2'13]; Morgen!, Op. 27 No. 2 (1894) [3'45]; Zueignung, Op. 10 No. 1 (1885, orch. 1940) [1'35].
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)
Mefistofele (1868) Prologo in cielob [25'22].
aMontserrat Caballé (soprano); bNicolai Ghiaurov (bass); bKonzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor; bGumpoldskirchner Spatzen; aOrchestre National de France, bWiener Philharmoniker/Leonard Bernstein.
Rec. aMaison de la Radio, Paris, in May 1977, bGrosser Musikvereinsaal, Vienna in April 1977. ADD

If Richard Strauss and Arrigo Boito do not necessarily seem obvious bedfellows, there is a logic to his disc. Both sequences were recorded within a month of each other, but one also wonders, given the diabolic tale of Mefistofele, whether the character Salome is seen as some She-Devil equivalent? Certainly Montserrat Caballé has a voice that cuts like a knife and sends appropriate shivers down the spine - mine, at least - and the final scene is wonderfully portrayed. The excerpt begins at the line, 'Es ist kein Laut zu vernehmen'. Caballé needed someone at the helm that could match her genius, so no surprises that Caballé + Bernstein = Dynamite. Bernstein ensures there is raw energy running through this scene, with brass positively snarling at every opportunity. More, the sensual moments verge on the obscene yet when there is true Straussian melodic outflow (as around 15'50), it sweeps the listener away unapologetically. Riveting.

Quite a surprise then that the 'Dance of the Seven Veils' is surprisingly literal as it runs its course. This mundane tendency, though, is held within the arms of a real elementalism (just try the beginning!). But there are some problems here. Despite great detail coming through, the recording is uncomfortably and falsely close, rather obviously multi-miked - and so lacks full ambience.

Only Bernstein, surely, could have encouraged an orchestra to begin Cäcilie so radiantly as this. And here is confirmation that Caballé has an ideal Strauss voice, luxurious yet with a slight edge. Bernstein's web of sound that opens Wiegenlied leads to a slightly heavy of voice soloist entry (even though Caballé has indeed lightened her tone). Still, it comes across as the Straussian fairy tale it is.

Morgen contrasts with a dramatic Ich liebe Dich. The solo violin in Morgen is possibly on the wiry side, but on the credit side there is an affecting simplicity to Caballé's interpretation.

The strings of Zueignung are very accurate, but slightly lifeless. Caballé, on the other hand, is in miraculous form here what a way to end the group!

Mefistofele blazes onto the scene here. The recording seems to constrict a little around 50 seconds in though. Nevertheless this is intense stuff. Lenny clearly will brook no criticism that this is second-rate opera. His soloist, Nicolai Ghiaurov, despatches 'Ave, signor' with aplomb, but is rather too smooth ... and also careful. Much better is the black 'Intermezzo drammatico' and the 'Salmodia finale' ('Salve Regina!'), with its magnificent chorus. Hugely impressive.

The inclusion of texts would have been good, but at a purely musical level this remains amongst the cream of the Eloquence catalogue.

Colin Clarke

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