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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome, Op 54 (1907) [120:11]
Wiener Philharmoniker/Georg Solti
rec. 1961, Sofiensaal, Vienna
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO165 [78:35 + 66:55]

My MusicWeb colleagues John Quinn and Des Hutchinson have glowingly reviewed the Decca re-mastered CD and BD-A issue of this famous recording in 2017, and Göran Forsling reviewed its previous reincarnation on CD in 2006 while I included it in my survey of the Salome discography early this year. Indeed, I made it my joint first choice with the Karajan/Behrens recording, so the reader has no shortage of input from MusicWeb and its artistic merits have been well covered - all of which combines to agree that this is one of the great recordings of the 20th century, so there is little point in my reiterating its many virtues and few failings here with such a wealth of opinion already available.

There is, however, also a bonus here in the form of forty-five minutes of studio excerpts from Elektra, which is all that was recorded – they are not from a complete set or performance, which is why I did not include them in my consideration of complete Elektra recordings where I again made Solti’s recording with Nilsson first choice.

The question that pertains to this latest incarnation from Pristine, therefore, is whether it marks an improvement over anything that has hitherto been issued. John Quinn confirmed that just as the latest CD issue in 2017 was preferable to the harsher, more wearing sound of the earlier CD version first reviewed by Göran, so the BD-A version for Blu-ray was superior even to that, being yet more vivid and present. Of course, the original LP sound engineered by John Culshaw and Gordon Parry in the Sofiensaal was always excellent, even if Culshaw later admitted that applying the term “Sonicstage” didn’t actually signify any specific technical innovation as such but was really only a Decca marketing ploy to indicate excellent stereo sound – which doesn’t alter the fact that it remains spectacular even to this day.

I have not heard anything other than the first CD version and have always found even that mightily impressive, but I am quite ready to believe that more recent issues have attenuated the aggressive edge and enhanced detail and depth. Certainly, comparison of it with this Pristine XR remastering reveals how much fuller, richer and deeper Andrew Rose has managed to make the sound. There is no background hiss but almost no corresponding loss of the crisp clarity which characterised the original recording. The passage from when Salome peers over the rim of the cistern – even her frenzied panting clearly audible - until the Executioner’s arm emerges from the shadowy depths, bearing the severed head of Jokanaan on a silver platter, is one of the great sequences in recording history and it doesn’t matter which of the various issues or labels you hear it on, as it unfailingly makes an enormous impact on the listener. Nilsson’s singing in that last scene is simply stunning.

If you are first-time buyer, it would make sense to choose the Blu-ray issue if you are set up for that, but whether you want Decca’s most recent remastering or this Pristine I hardly feel qualified to advise, as both are evidently splendid; I can only say that this latest incarnation of one of the “classics of the gramophone” is supremely satisfying.

However, the bonus offered might swing it for some in favour of this latest issue from Pristine. You can hear Christel Goltz in a complete, 1955 recording of Elektra conducted by Karl Böhm and accompanied by equally distinguished co-singers but that is live and in mono, whereas the extended excerpts here, conducted by Solti over a decade before his famous studio recording with Nilsson, are also studio-made and have been rendered into Ambient Stereo, both factors lending extra impact and clarity. The enhanced sound is really striking and the observations I made about Goltz’ smoky, intense Elektra in my discographical survey apply equally here but, if anything, she is in better, steadier voice for Solti. Elisabeth Höngen, too, is riveting as Klytemnestra – the best I have ever heard her. A final bonus is the glorious bass-baritone of Ferdinand Frantz as Orest, even if he always sounds like Wotan rather than the volatile, vengeful brother. Solti’s conducting is superb – both impassioned and lyrical with none of the impatience or bombast which sometimes marred his manner; under his direction, the Recognition Scene is graced by gorgeous playing from the Bayerischen Staastorchester.

If the combination of Pristine’s enhanced sound and the Elektra bonus appeals, you need not hesitate.

Ralph Moore

Disc contents
Salome, Op 54 (1907) [120:11]
Birgit Nilsson (soprano) – Salome; Gerhard Stolze (tenor) – Herod; Grace Hoffman (mezzo-sop.) – Herodias; Eberhard Wächter (baritone) – Jokanaan; Waldemar Kmentt (tenor) – Narraboth; Josephine Veasey (mezzo-sop.) – Page to Herodias; Paul Kuen (tenor) – First Jew); Stefan Schwer (tenor) – Second Jew; Kurt Equiluz (tenor) – Third Jew; Aron Gestner (tenor) – Fourth Jew; Max Proebstl (bass) – Fifth Jew; Tom Krause (baritone) – First Nazarene; Nigel Douglas (tenor) – Second Nazarene; Zenon Kosnowski (bass) – First Soldier; Heinz Holecek (bass) – Second Soldier; Theodor Kirschbichler (bass) – Cappadocian; Liselotte Mailk (soprano) – Slave
Wiener Philharmoniker/Georg Solti
rec. 1961, Sofiensaal, Vienna
No libretto
Bonus tracks:
Elektra (excerpts) [45:19]
Allein! Weh, ganz allein [8:34]
Ich will nichts hören [16:37]
Was willst du, fremder Mensch? [20:08]
Christel Goltz soprano) – Elektra; Elisabeth Höngen (mezzo-sop.) – Klytemnestra; Ferdinand Frantz (bass-bar.) – Orest
Bayerishes Staatsorchester/Georg Solti
rec. 3 August 1952, Amerika Haus, Munich – presented in Ambient Stereo
XR Remastering, stereo

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