STRAUSS Salome (Orozco-Estrada)
With a coupling of Ein Heldenleben and Macbeth released on Pentatone last year (11/16), Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony already showed themselves to be impressive Straussians. They offer something even finer to my ears in Strauss’s breakthrough operatic score, recorded at a concert in Frankfurt in the autumn of 2016.
Orozco-Estrada’s approach is unrushed and often expansive, and certainly less concerned with the slash-horror effects that come up afresh on the recently remastered Solti set (Decca, 10/17) – remarkably, the present recording also takes nearly a quarter of an hour longer than Solti’s. But there’s no lack of detail in Pentatone’s rich sound, and I found myself hearing plenty of things afresh: the divided viola and cello harmonics and glissandos as Salome and Herod discuss the silver charger (disc 2, track 3, from 0'36"), or the needly harp describing a crown of thorns (disc 1, track 12, 0'35"). For once, too, we have an organ towards the end of the final scene that communicates something suitably uncanny.
And though Orozco-Estrada’s approach is leisurely by the clock, he offers no shortage of energy and shock and shudder. After holding back initially, he whips up a storm in the big interlude after Jokanaan’s curse, and he offers us a Dance that alternates febrile energy with languid, hip-swinging seductiveness. The big orchestral outburst after Salome issues her demand for a final time is properly shattering.
That moment is also demonstrative of the set’s other great asset: Emily Magee’s Salome spits out her words as part of a characterisation of the Judean princess that’s compellingly real and convincing. Listen, too, to the taut, intense monodrama she and Orozco-Estrada make of the minutes as she awaits the executioner’s strike. Magee’s is a voice that swells into phrases rather than attacks them, and is perhaps a touch more opaque in its colour than ideal, but she sounds fresh throughout and sings the big final scene compellingly – an especially impressive achievement given that this was recorded live.
The rest of the cast includes singers similarly experienced in their roles, and although Wolfgang Koch’s timbre is too smooth for him to represent a properly threatening and authoritative presence as Jokanaan, he sings the role generously and reliably. Benjamin Bruns is an urgent and dramatically involving Narraboth and Peter Bronder and Michaela Schuster are a vivid pair as Herod and Herodias. Some members of the extended cast are a little disappointing by comparison but Sung Ha stands out as an eloquent First Nazarene.
In a crowded catalogue this newcomer is unlikely to replace old favourites, but it offers an unusually persuasive aural drama and a deeply musical account of the score – a compelling listen featuring a fine cast and expertly conducted. It’s a set that can be warmly recommended.