STRAUSS Elektra – Solti
What is undoubtedly one of the greatest performances ever on record sounds even more terrifyingly realistic on CD. There are many who believe, as I do, that Elektra was Nilsson's most exciting accomplishment for the gramophone, surpassing even her Brunnhilde. Her unflinching attack, magnificent high Bs and Cs, her subtle shadings (listen to the caressing of the line at ''Von jetzt an will ich deine Schwester sein''), her depth of feeling, as in the great lamenting passage ''Kannst du nicht die Botschaft austrompeten dort...'' when Elektra believes Orestes dead; these, coupled with her absolute steadiness of tone, are something we are lucky to hear once in a lifetime. Now that the assumption has become something of a historical document its achievement seems that much more amazing.
Then this is possibly Solti's most notable operatic recording. The nervous tension of this work finds a keen empathy in his gripping, taut and highly detailed conducting, to which the VPO responded with their finest playing, and every strand of the score, given—for once—complete, is caught by John Culshaw's recording. There are aspects of the SonicStage approach that seem even more aggravating than they did on LP. The stage noises, though too loud, are understandable, and with movement of the singers in different acoustics is often convincing, but Clytemnestra's electronically enhanced cackles and Chrysothemis's unnatural wailing simply exaggerate what Strauss has already made plain in the score.
Both those roles are aptly taken. Regina Resnik is the raddled old Queen to the life, and generates the feel of a theatrical encounter in her long duologue with Elektra. Marie Collier, though inclined to yowl, conveys all Chrysothemis's neurosis and frustration and her voice can soar almost as easily as Nilsson's. William Mann, in his original review, did not care much for Tom Krause's Orestes, but I find him the epitome of youthful nobility and firm resolution.
The CD booklet, though lacking some of the photos of its LP equivalent, now has a new and enlightening essay on the work by Michael Kennedy, who nicely contrasts and compares it with Salome. The home listener, with the Decca sets now both magnificently transferred to CD, can follow up MK's lead.'