Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos
On Karl Böhm’s demise, Wolfgang Sawallisch – another Strauss specialist – was summoned from Munich to Salzburg to replace him as conductor of the revival of Dieter Dorn’s staging of Ariadne in 1982. Because of his directorship of the Bavarian State Opera, Sawallisch did not often travel across the border, but here he declares his credentials as an alert and energising interpreter of this tricky work. He and the Vienna Philharmonic can hardly be faulted.
This is not quite so true of the singers. The Prologue goes splendidly, with the late Trudeliese Schmidt as one of the most convincingly boyish and tonally expansive Composers on disc. She and Walter Berry’s beautifully sung Music-Master were rightly lauded in the press, and the smaller parts are well taken, though there are more characterful Dancing Masters than Horst Hiestermann (listen to Peter Schreier on Rudolf Kempe’s recording).
Anna Tomowa-Sintow’s Ariadne, at once grand and vulnerable, is even more satisfying and better sung than for Levine, though her reading is a bit generalised as compared with those of EMI’s Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Lisa Della Casa – live with Böhm – and best of all the more committed Leonie Rysanek on an unavailable RCA set. The leather-lunged James King, Kempe’s vocally god-like Bacchus, is just as fine here many years later; indeed at 57 he sings like a tenor 20 years younger. Nobody today can touch him for confidence or vocal security in this kind of role, and he displays more passion than was sometimes the case when I caught him in the role on stage.
For all Edita Gruberová’s famed virtuosity and ease on top, I find her Zerbinetta vulgar in the wrong way and often too free with the written notes. Here confidence has bred over-confidence. Much to be preferred are Rita Streich for Karajan and Sylvia Geszty for Kempe, both more stylish. Nor are her commedia dell’arte companions among the most inviting on disc, though veteran Scottish tenor Murray Dickie, as Brighella, is fleet and lively in the high-lying passages of the quartets.
I enjoyed this faithfully recorded live offering, but Karajan’s mono set and Kempe’s refined and impassioned version, with the Dresden Staatskapelle, remain prime recommendations.