Capriccio - Interlude and final scene
Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi (Chandos)
Vienna Philharmonic/Sinopoli (Brilliant Classics)
Frau ohne schatten
Vienna Philharmonic/Böhm (DG)
Salome - complete opera
Metropolitan Opera/Reiner (Walhall)
Deutsche Opera Berlin/Sinopoli (DG)
Vienna Philharmonic/Solti (Decca)
Salome - final scene
NDRSO Hamburg/Runnicles (Apex)
The 'front' of Christine Brewer’s voice is focused so
that words are clear; just as you would hear from a lyric soprano.
Behind this there is a rich resonance, almost like a sound chamber,
that refracts the most extraordinary colours. It weaves burnished
metals with warm mahoganies, and imparts all the dramatic soprano
power required. This distinctive sound is allied to a keen dramatic
intelligence. So what about these Strauss opera excerpts? In
short, we have a triumph, a hit and a contrived mismatch.
Brewer sang Chrysothemis in concert performances with the Cleveland
Orchestra several years ago. You’d expect the feminine
beauties of that part to be a better fit than Elektra’s
desperation and madness. Indeed Electra’s ecstatic “Dann
sterb’ ich seliger als ich gelebt” is ravishingly
floated. However, Brewer really darkens her palette for “…
Num denn, allein” and brings an edginess beyond even her
fine Act I Isolde on Warner Classics. Brewer’s main success
here is to evoke Elektra’s brief transition from mental
anguish to hope. She accomplishes this with total security and
tonal beauty, even as she digs into the darkest colours. And
her Dyer’s Wife, from Strauss’s problematic Die
Frau ohne Schatten, is preferable to Nilsson (DG); Brewer’s
tone is warmer, less penetrating, soaring on golden wings.
There is plenty of dramatic characterisation in this Salome
final scene, unfortunately little of it is Salome. In this,
Brewer joins the ranks of great sopranos like Nilsson, Norman
and Alessandra Marc whose singing is impressive on its own terms
but listeners would need to take a huge mental leap to believe
they are listening to a teenage princess. Brewer’s soprano
is now too mature, large and rich as if Salome is channelled
via Brünnhilde. I listened to Cheryl Studer’s Salome
straight afterwards and was immediately struck by how much better
her warm silver tones match the part. And whilst Ljuba Welitsch
may not enjoy Telarc’s Direct Stream Digital soundstage,
her Salome leaps from the speakers, through sheer force of characterisation.
I wonder why Runnicles chose to start the excerpt with the orgasmic
orchestral crescendo as Salome finally gets her mits on Jochanaan’s
severed head? His earlier recording with Alessandra Marc (Warner
Apex) begins with the chilling parlando as Salome anticipates
success and then effectively extends her voice to open over
the resulting orchestral roar.
Runnicles’ Capriccio interlude is more transparent
than Neeme Järvi’s (Chandos) but the Scottish recording
is more warmly phrased and, crucially, has the advantage of
Felicity Lott singing the final scene. There was room on this
Telarc CD, if Brewer wished, to sing this too. The Atlanta musicians
are superlative in Salome’s dance, the liquid woodwinds
add to the delicate textures as the first veils are lightly
tossed aside, almost all hints of kitsch eschewed. Turn to Sinopoli
for added sleaze. At first I wondered if Salome was teasing
Herod a mite too long so the patriarch risked losing interest,
but the dance heats up for the striptease climax. Runnicles,
as in the final scene, is expert at keeping the violence simmering
and, when needed, exploding.
Exactly who is Telarc tempting with this CD of disparate Straussian
chunks? Brewer’s many fans will definitely want to buy
and Atlantans must also invest to hear and support their impressive
local band. Kudos to engineer Michael Bishop who delivers a
natural soundstage for the orchestra with plenty of punch. The
low brass and basses in particular, have thrilling presence.
Eric Owens’ Orestes is also a must. Here is one of those
rich, deep bass-baritone voices that sends shivers up the spine.
Why has Owens not recorded more? However, I wish Telarc had
given us a complete Elektra. As it stands, most buyers
must first consider Sinopoli’s set which is about half
the price, reissued on Brilliant Classics. Sound, orchestra
and conducting are even more vivid. Brewer has advantages of
tone and textual clarity, but Alessandra Marc’s controversial,
voluptuous Elektra is a force of nature. Sinopoli’s Salome
set may be full price on DG but I’d pay for the extra
disc to ear the opera complete, with Cheryl Studer’s sweet
psychopath and Sinopoli’s dramatic imagination let loose.
Welitsch’s 1952 live Salome from the old Metropolitan
Opera, with an outstanding cast directed by Fritz Reiner, is
easy to find for the same price, and sometimes less, of this
The booklet contains libretti in English and German, biographies
and scant introductory information to Strauss and the operas.
This is supplemented by the link to the Telarc
website. Quite properly, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
players are individually named.