R. Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos
This set is welcome back mainly for the lustrous, idiomatic singing of Rysanek and Jurinac, two of the most winning Strauss sopranos in recorded history. Rysanek's pointing of her solos in ''Ein Schones war'' and ''Es gibt ein Reich'', and her contributions to the final duet are at once subtly shaded and gloriously sung. Only some hollowness in the lower reaches of the role mars a performance that ranks with the best Ariadnes on disc. Jurinac's youthful, impetuous Composer adorned Glyndebourne on several occasions, and it is here, as remembered, a compelling interpretation, rivalled only by Seefried's on more than one set. Both prove beyond doubt that this is a soprano, not a mezzo, part. Then Preger is unsurpassed as the Major-domo declaiming in a nasal, de haut en bas manner absolutely suited to this gift of a speaking role.
The rest of the performance isn't so appealing. In a recent issue of our contemporary The Record Collector, an American writer, reviewing all performances on disc of Zerbinetta, placed Peters, along with Gruberova, at the top of the pile. Although I agree that she sings the role with remarkable accuracy and amazing technique, hers is too edgy and white a voice, too anonymous an interpretation, not in the class of several other interpreters on disc, among them Karajan's Streich and Kempe's Geszty. Peerce, if you'll forgive the pun, has a piercing tenor and he's none too fond of following Strauss's dynamic markings, but he exudes the right kind of heroic fervour. Berry is, as ever, a sympathetic Music Master, but a shade heavy as Harlequin. Dickie is a fleet Dancing Master and Brighella. Leinsdorf's swift, upfront conducting doesn't evince the Straussian warmth of some of his rivals on disc, but he draws often refined playing from the VPO, making every strand of the complex score clear.
With an array of John Culshaw, Ray Minshull and Christopher Raeburn as producers, Gordon Parry and James Brown as engineers, it is a puzzle why the recording, basically warm and well-balanced with some attempt at theatrical perspectives, remains intractable. The occasional distortion on my original RCA LPs is still there, added to which there is some of that ghostly underlay on the voices that suggests some computer or digital malfunction. Though this version cannot match the merits of the Kempe, Bohm or Karajan sets I shall always keep it by me for Jurinac, Rysanek and Preger. '