R. Strauss Salome
Karajan’s reading of this seminal work has always been noted for its glorious sensuousness (different from the sensuality found elsewhere): the score has surely never sounded so sheerly beautiful on disc, or perhaps anywhere. With the VPO on its warmest, most receptive form, the performance, whatever else it may be, is a real feast for the ear, with Karajan providing the tremendous concentration when that’s needed, for instance when Jokanaan prophesies Christ’s coming. The recording, more than 20 years old, stands up to modern competition except when the voices are sometimes too recessed so that vital text is eclipsed by the orchestra.
Behrens fits in well with Karajan’s concept. The title-role has only been sung so beautifully by Studer (Sinopoli) and, in a more self-indulgent way, by Caballe (Leinsdorf). We can sit back and know that nothing is going to offend the ear as Behrens projects, as she intends, a young, natural though unscrupulous girl, not a demon or vamp. In that respect, as EG mentioned in his original review (9/78), she is the antipole to Nilsson (Solti), and nearest to Studer. With Karajan, as RO points out in his notes to the set, wholly in sympathy with Behrens, a remarkable unity of purpose is achieved. Those who want something a shade nastier in their Salome, yet not one as formidably so as Nilsson, may settle for Inga Nielsen on the recent Chandos version who, like the fabled Cebotari, comes closest to an ideal Salome.
The remainder of the cast, including many notable names in small roles, is excellent. Van Dam probably sings Jokanaan better than any other bass-baritone on CD, but there is little sense of what he conceives his character to be, which Waechter (Solti), Terfel (Sinopoli) and Hale (Schonwandt) amply supply, and their readings, in their various ways, are almost as well sung as van Dam’s. Like these two principals, Bohm and Baltsa also took their roles on stage with Karajan, and they both provide detailed but never exaggerated characterizations, sung and not cackled, though Bohm does not surpass Goldberg’s Herod on Chandos. Ochman’s Narraboth opens the opera in fine style. Only the role of First Nazarene is miscast.
At mid price this set has much going for it. Newcomers to Karajan in opera need not hold back as this is among the best of his later recordings of stage works. In terms of the whole field it stands beside the other sets mentioned, each with its perfectly valid view of the work, splendidlyexecuted.'