R Strauss - Elektra
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Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat No: 4793387
Number of Discs: 2
Release Date: 16th June 2014
In the Richard Strauss anniversary year, this is Deutsche Grammophon’s new key audio release: a truly electrifying, once in a lifetime performance of Strauss’ Elektra with the Staatskapelle Dresden.
The recording features today’s dream cast for Elektra: Evelyn Herlitzius, Anne Schwanewilms, Waltraud Meier and René Pape, all under the expert baton of Strauss master Christian Thielemann.
This is an historic release, since the opera was premiered in Dresden in 1909 with the Staatskapelle – and the orchestra recorded it only once before (in 1960: also for DG with Karl Böhm).
The Europadisc Review
Richard Strauss's sesquicentenary is being celebrated with a raft of new recordings and reissues, but new accounts of the operas are still major events. Among Deutsche Grammophon's offerings for the anniversary year is this stunning performance of Elektra, recorded live at the Philharmonie in Berlin as recently as January this year. The occasion was a concert performance of Barbara Frey's new production from the Semperoper in Dresden, where Strauss's operatic masterpiece opera was premièred in 1909. DG make much of the Staatskapelle Dresden's Straussian credentials, and it was this orchestra that made the first stereo recording of Elektra, under Karl Böhm for DG in 1960 – still rightly considered a benchmark account of the score, and recently reissued on Australian Eloquence (see here). In this new recording – the first of this work by the Staatskapelle since then – they are on blistering form under chief conductor Christian Thielemann, playing the music with the sensitivity and relish that comes from long and intimate acquaintance. (The accompanying booklet note by Tobias Niederschlag reveals that the orchestra still plays from the original parts used in 1909!)
Thielemann takes a marginally more measured view of the work than did Böhm, which pays dividends in revealing much of the inner detail of Strauss's score, yet there is no lack of excitement or momentum. The wind voicing in particular is outstanding, while the brass have a burnished glow which is happily a long way from the wayward, Russian-influenced timbre to which they were sometimes prone in the 1970s. The quieter passages have rarely sounded so intense or delicate, while the climaxes never overpower the singers, and the overall balance is ideal, rich in detail yet with a pleasing overall ambience.
The cast itself includes some of today's leading Strauss singers. As the heroine sworn to avenge the death of her father Agamemnon, Evelyn Herlitzius is particularly powerful and dramatically involving; she may lack the pinpoint (some would say clinical) accuracy of Birgit Nilsson on the famous Solti recording for Decca (Vienna, 1967), but she gives a more sympathetically rounded portrayal, yet with a steely edge to her timbre that hints at Elektra's obsessive dedication to her grim task.
Anne Schwanewilms is as fine a Chrysothemis as you'll hear anywhere, conveying the inner anxieties and uncertainties as well as the ecstasies of the role without ever descending into tremulousness. Waltraud Meier makes a memorable impression as Klytemnestra, imperious yet vulnerable too, so that one is almost tempted to a pang of sympathy for her as she meets her grisly fate (which is thrillingly conveyed).
As Elektra's long-lost brother, René Pape is the noblest Orestes there's been since the days of Fischer-Dieskau, chillingly detached on first meeting with sister, while Frank van Aken conveys the weakness of Aegisthus with a hint of comedy yet without resorting to caricature. All the minor roles are taken with distinction, and come across with exceptional clarity.
Like Böhm before him, Thielemann makes the customary theatrical cuts – understandable and even necessary in live performance, when Elektra is onstage for the best part of the opera's uninterrupted 100 minutes – yet such is the dramatic commitment and narrative drive that one barely registers them, and the final pages make an overwhelming impact. With full text and translations (something of a rarity these days!), this is a handsome addition to the current Strauss celebrations.
1Wo Bliebt Elektra?
2Allein! Weh, Ganz Allein
4Ich Kann Nicht Sitzen Und Ins Dunkel Starren
5Es Geht Ein Larm Los
6Was Willst Du? Seht Doch Dort!
7Die Gotter! Bist Doch Selber Eine Gottin
8Ich Will Nichts Horen!
9Ich Habe Keine Guten Nachte
10Wenn Das Rechte Blutopfur Unterm Beile Fallt
11Was Bluten Muss? Dein Eigenes Genick
12Orest! Orest Ist Tot!
13Platz Da! Wer Lungert So Vor Einer Tur?
14Nun Muss Es Hier Von Uns Geschehn
15Du! Du! Denn Du Bist Stark! Wie Stark Du Bist
16Nun Denn, Allein!
17Was Willst Du, Frember Mensch?
20Du Wirst Es Tun? Allein? Du Armes Kind?
21Seid Ihr Von Sinnen
22Ich Habe Ihm Das Beil Nicht Geben Konnen!
23Es Muss Etwas Geschehen Sein
24Horst Du Denn Nicht
26Ob Ich Nicht Hore?
28Schweig, Und Tanze
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