R. Strauss Salome
Salome was one of Decca's notable ''Sonic-stage successes, now all of 23 years ago. It still beats most of its operatic competitiors in terms of sound alone. There is a real sense here of a theatrical performance, as directed by John Culshaw, with an imaginative use of movement that is all the more obvious in its CD recension. Compact Disc also improves on the already very clear recording of the orchestra, so that all the detail of the extraordinary scoring, so often obscured in the opera house, can be easily heard. I have to add that it also makes more plain the Solti stomp on the platform at climactic moments.
Of course, the vivid, nervous energy of Strauss has always been Solti's territory—I hope his Elektra will soon be remastered on CD—and this is an overwhelming account of Strauss's sensual piece, sometimes a little too hard-hitting for its or our good: there are places where the tension might be relaxed just a shade. but throughout the VPO answer Solti's extreme demands with their most aristocratic playing, which is even more exciting in the new format. With only a single break, the sense of mounting fever is all the more felt.
Nilsson's account of the title role remains another towering monument to her tireless singing. Here, more even than as Brunnhilde, one notices just how she could fine away her tone to a sweet and fully supported pianissimo, and her whole interpretation wants nothing of the erotic suggestiveness of sopranos more familiar with the role on stage. Stolze's Herod is properly wheddling, worried and, in the final resort, crazed, but there are times, particularly towards the end of his contribution, when exaggeration takes over from characterization in a kind of braying Sprechgesang. Others, most notably Patzak on Decca's earlier mono recording under Clemens Krauss (now deleted), showed how effects can be created without distortion of the vocal line. Waechter is an aggressive rather than a visionary Jokanaan; I prefer a nobler tone in this role. Grace Hoffman is a suitably gloating Herodias. Much better than any of these, Nilsson apart, is Kmentt's wonderfully ardent Narraboth.
It is unlikely that this achievement, as a whole, will be surpassed for the present. None of the rivals since 1962 has managed a true challenge. So I expect Decca, Nilsson and Solti to capture the CD market as conclusively as it has cornered the LP field.'