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Len Mullenger:

Strauss: Famous Scenes

Arabella: Aber der Richtige, wenns einen gibt (acko); Ariadne auf Naxos: Es ist alles vergebens … Es gibt ein Reich (ejo); Elektra: Allein! Weh, ganz allein (dko); Die Frau ohne Schatten: Sieh - Amma - sieh … Zum Lebenswasser! … Wehe, mein Mann! (fikl); Der Rosenkavalier: Mein Gott! Es was nicht mehr als eine Farce (bchkp); Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils (kn); Closing Scene (gkm).
Lisa della Casa (a), Régine Crespin (b), Hilde Gueden (c), Birgit Nilsson (d), Leontyne Price (e), Leonie Rysanek (f), Anja Silja (g), Elisabeth Söderström (h) (sopranos), Vienna State Opera Chorus (i), London Philharmonic Orchestra (j), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (k) conducted by Karl Böhm (l), Christoph von Dohnányi (m), Herbert von Karajan (n), Sir Georg Solti (o), Silvio Varviso (p).
Decca 458 250-2 [76'29]

In spite of the extreme demands Strauss made on the human voice he has been blessed with a long series of classic interpreters. Here are some riches from the Decca stable; EMI and Deutsche Grammophon could produce an equally imposing array from their own archives. So the newcomer to Strauss, or the collector who fancies a few alternative performances to put alongside his complete sets, need not hesitate; he will get a taste of the composer's principal operatic scenes in the hands of some of his finest soprano interpreters of the post-war years, and finely conducted too (the lesser-known Varviso no less than the others).

Given such overall excellence individual comment is hardly needed, but a couple of points need making. Good though it is to hear Price's opulent tones, is she wholly in the part (and was she quite a Straussian soprano in the way the others are)? It is a little surprising that the Jurinac/Leinsdorf version was not preferred (which would have had the neat effect of giving us the VPO all through, not that the LPO's contribution is in any way inferior). And, while one appreciates Silja's psychological understanding of Salomé's final scene her gleaming voice can get squally under pressure and occasionally provides a hostage to those who say this kind of opera is just one big scream from beginning to end. So here the Nilsson/Solti would have been better, even if this pair have already given us the Electra extract. The Böhm Frau is glorious but the 1955 recording becomes strident as the engineers try to obtain from it a frequency range it just hasn't got; having allowed the presence of one older recording, what a pity to have nothing from the Erich Kleiber Rosenkavalier, except that the present version of the trio from that opera is wonderful and I wouldn't forgo it for anything.

Texts and translations are included, together with a useful note which sets out the context for each extract.

In conclusion, if you do not know this repertoire yet, get this disc and start from the Arabella duet. Gorgeous music, gorgeous voices; you'll be hooked for ever.

Christopher Howell

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