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  Living Stereo
  Richard Strauss: Music from Salome, Elektra - Borkh/Reiner
  Richard Strauss: Salome, Elektra (excerpts)

Inge Borkh (soprano)
Francis Yeend (soprano)
Paul Schoffler (baritone)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Fritz Reiner (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 4 show all

Review by peteyspambucket September 1, 2005 (10 of 14 found this review helpful)
Once again, I will put myself out there and disagree with the praise-party for this SACD release.

I have loved this recording since I was very young, and I learned Elektra and Salome with the help of these excerpts, as well as Borkh's complete recording of Elektra with Karl Bohm. The performances from Borkh and Schoeffler are priceless and must-hears for those interested in these operas. Borkh's sensitive and vulnerable protrayals are a wonderful contrast to Nilsson's and Varnay's more maniacal interpretations. Of note in the Recognition Scene, the melodram after Elektra realizes she is with Orest, the music is uncut.

Turning focus to the sound, I do not find this SACD remastering to be remarkable. Aside from the extra dynamic range in some spots, the sound has a great deal of tape hiss. On top of that, there doesn't seem to have been much extra definition to have been obtained from the tapes to differentiate the SACD version from the RBCD version. Unlike the Moffo and Price releases from this series, Borkh does not benefit from the extra focus she might have had in the center channel. (This doesn't bother me, and I've only added it here for informational purposes.) It is very interesting that based on the levels of this SACD, it sounds like Borkh's voice is very much in dynamic perspective with the orchestra, and there are times (and rightfully so) that her voice almost seems to be overwhelmed by the orchestra. The orchestra has a very unfocused, blurry quality and it doesn't compare very well against modern RBCD recordings of the piece. The winds and strings have a very tinny and whiney quality that was always the case on LP or RBCD, but is now further accentuated by the clarity of SACD. Having done a little A/B between the CD and SACD layers, I found that the CD layer had a more focused bass, and a clearer overall sound. I had expected some revelatory new definition from this SACD, but I came away very disappointed.

While I am grateful to have this on SACD, if you already have the RBCD of this material, you do not need to replace it with this SACD.

My score will only reflect the audio quality, and not the performance.

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Review by ramesh August 9, 2005 (9 of 13 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Salome: Dance of the seven veils; Final scene.
Elektra: Soliloquy; Recognition Scene; Final scene
A self recommending SACD, especially with the underrepresentation of opera in the new format.
The cover art of this disc, was once one of the most sensational paintings in the world. The painter was a now forgotten Frenchman called Regnault ( 1843-1871 ); the title, 'Salomé', painted 1870. Paris at this time was the centre of the art world, and in the nineteenth century, the penchant for 'Orientalist' works of art, where one could depict sexuality, either of the bridled or unbridled variety, was in its heyday. Mainstream artworks were exhibited in what were termed, 'Salons'. The impressionists were out of the square, and exhibited their works in what feistily became known as the Parisian 'Salon des Refusés', for official rejects. This Salomé was a sensation in the official salon of 1870, and in 1912, was sold for nearly US $100,000 ; a stupendous sum at that time, usually reserved for the top rank of Italian Renaissance art. As the first impressionist salon was in 1863, one can see that there were multiple strands of art in the nineeenth century, and it is only time which has given preeminence to one lineage, sweeping away the mainstream art of the day into academic obscurity. You can see this work today in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and I can personally vouch that it appears even crummier and fustier in the flesh, than it does as miniaturised cover art. The reason this is worth mentioning, is that at the time these Straussian operas were premiered, circa 1905 to 1910, the painting was in the public mind, still nearly as arousing as the operas themselves; the equivalent of, say, Eric Fischl's 'Desperate Housewives' sorts of paintings nowadays. There has been much recent comment on this site as to the value, or otherwise, of contemporary American classical music, and this comment as to the change in artistic fortunes of one painting, is mentioned as a reminder as to how utterly and irrevocably aesthetic judgements can turn. The caveat is that hardly ever does a completely spurned artwork rise into preeminence. The impressionists may have exhibited at the 'wrong' Parisian salon, but they still had a loyal band of supporters, despite their temporary vicissitudes.
As to the music and performances, a briefer note. Borkh was probably the preminent interpreter of Elektra. She appears in Böhm's stereo recording, and also in a live performance at the 1957 Salzburg festival under Mitropoulos, preserved on Orfeo C4569721. Her voice in these two works has no weaknesses; a magnificent amplitude with impeccable intonation, without the steeliness of Nilsson. The warmth of her tone brings a more appealing dimension to characters which are best described by the contemporary rubric of, 'ball busters'. But then, any Strauss aficionado would know all this.
An anecdote I found on the Teldec DVD, 'The Art Of Conducting', is well worth repeating. John Pfeiffer, the producer of the Salome dance, says of Reiner, and this specific performance: "He was not a man of sentiment or sentimentality… Mrs Reiner, who was always present at his recordings, said to me…of the Salome dance…Don't you think he should schmaltz at it more? When he came to hear the playback, I was the one elected to brave the lion, and said, 'Dr Reiner, it's a marvellous thing, there's no editing involved. Would you want to do it one more time, to make it a little more sensuous, a little more schmaltzy?' He said, 'No!'. And that was the end of that!" Indeed, the Dance is taken at a pace and martial air which one would characterise as Toscaninian, except that it never sounds either hectic nor bad tempered. There isn't the alluring sensuousness of, say, Karajan, but it is still a most impressive rendition, due to the spectacular responsiveness of the orchestra.
The original CD issue, though impressive for an early digital transfer, wasn't one of the best of the 'Living Stereo' set. The improvement, especially in the detail and fullness of the orchestral texture is remarkable. One can hardly credit that these performances date from 1954 to 1956. The improvement in the voices is not as pronounced, but this is because this was the best part of the original CD release.
One final anecdote. The last time I was at Covent Garden was two years ago, for a performance of 'Elektra', with Lisa Gasteen in the lead and Bychkov in the pit. Although I had heard Elektra and Salome before a couple of times each in the theatre, this was the first time since I had become an audiophile. I bought an outrageously expensive side stalls seat, because I wanted to hear live what this hyperorchestrated opera would sound like, and compare it not only to the sound of SACD, but to the Sinopoli CDs I had, a DGG recording of the VPO from 1995. I had the bonus of sitting next to an extremely corpulent patron, who served as an echo buster against reflections from the wall demarcating stalls circle seats. Borkh on this SACD was far superior to the quartet of Elektras and Salomes I've seen in the theatre. These works are miracles of superlatively fastidious orchestration. Their viscerally loud sections come less frequently than they do in Mahler symphonies, and in the opera hall the impression was of a fascinating procession of ravishing textures, at the opposite pole to Debussyian diaphanousness. Granted, the sound has impact and dominance, but is generally not deafening; again, this may be an aesthetic shift in an era of amplified music, because all contemporary reports relate to their cacophanous nature.
What is astounding to note is that, despite the historic nature of this SACD, these recordings give a better impression of the range of textures in the opera, than the 1995 Sinopoli recording on CD. DGG and Sinopoli present an overwhelming wall of sound, where wall means a solid mass. Despite the lesser intensity of the soundscape on the SACD, the balance between voices and orchestra is slightly better judged. One feels here, that the sound is a texturally delicate yielding mass, closer to the way one experiences it in the concert hall, than the brassier sound of PCM digital, with its curiously attendant 'deadness', despite all the undoubted extra detail the modern engineers bring. Moreover, these assessments have been made listening only in two channel.

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Review by dschawv August 4, 2005 (7 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I have to say that this is one of the best reissues in this series. Recieved it today and from first note to last, it was a joy.
My taste has always run to Birgit Nilsson in this reportoire. Yet, Inge Borkh has exactly the right sound for this music.
She has more warmth and tonal variety to my ear.
Reiner's support as well as the CSO is outstanding. Just listen to the "seven veils" and you will see.
Ever since I bought the earlier issue of this, I have truly enjoyed this recording.
If you love Strauss operas, get this outstanding issue.

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Works: 2  

Richard Strauss - Elektra, TrV 223 Op. 58
Richard Strauss - Salome, TrV 215 Op. 54