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Richard Strauss: Salome, opus 54
Emily Magee (Salome), Wolfgang Koch (Jochanaan), Peter Bronder (Herodes), Michaela Schuster (Herodias), Banjamin Bruns (Narraboth), Claude Eichenberger (Page), Michael Pregher (First Jew), Benedikt Nawrath (Second Jew), Christoph Wittmann (Third Jew), David Lee (Fourth Jew), Joachim Goltz (Fifth Jew), Sung Ho (First Nazarene), Markus Grossmann (Second Nazarene), Torben Jürgens (First Soldier), Stephan Somberg (Second Soldier), Peter (Maruhn (A Cappadocian), Babett Dörste-Ewald (A Slave), Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (conductor)
Recorded live at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt (September 10, 2016) – 113’02
2 CDs Pentatone PTC 5186602 – Booklet and texts in German and English

There isn’t much to say about this recording that it is really wonderful. It is hard to believe it is taken from a single performance. Right from the first scintillating notes Andrés Orozco-Estrada establishes the right tone and mood, and this is beautifully (and sometimes chillingly where appropriate) sustained throughout.

Emily Magee fully captures the title role and stands up to comparison with other notable recorded performances with a youthful purity of tone that gradually gives way to her obsessive demand. Peter Bronder voices Herodes’ fearful frenzy. When he hears the beating of wings the overall effect is hair-raising (and he absolutely nails the work’s final line). Michaela Schuster does a star turn as Herodias.

If there is one drawback it lies in the distant placement at the beginning of the piece of Wolfgang Koch as Jochanaan. Other recordings (and many stagings) enhance the offstage voice (Jochanaan is imprisoned in a cistern) to give him a more vital presence from the start. Perhaps Pentatone’s audiophile ethos doesn’t permit this. Once Koch comes into full focus he shows himself to be one of the finest baritones in this fach. This one drawback is more than compensated for by the overall dazzling result.

Secondary roles are strongly cast, notably Benjamin Bruns as Narraboth and Claude Eichenberger as the Page.

There is a widespread belief that the core operatic repertoire is well-represented on recordings (and anyway, weren’t the casts assembled for studio recordings better than any that could be found today?) I certainly have favourite Salomes from the past (e.g., the von Karajan performance with Hildegard Behrens. And then there’s Caballé. Let’s not forget the film with Teresa Stratas.) Its nice to know that a contemporary recording can join an illustrious discography.

Michael Johnson




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