Later recordings are hardly likely to surpass the conductor, orchestra and cast assembled here
There have been rumours for a long time that a 'live performance' version of Die Frau ohne Schatten had been recorded at performances in Vienna under the direction of Karl Böhm, and here at last is the proof that they were true. So is preserved what was the classic cast for the work during the 1960s and 1970s. Böhm himself had always been closely connected with the opera and his recording of 30 years ago still survives in the Decca LP catalogue (G0S554, 4/68). This was also based on a Vienna State Opera staging. There are further rumours that both EMI (Sawallisch) and Decca (Solti) intend to record the work. ThoseRead more versions will hopefully be absolutely complete. Böhm makes the standard theatre cuts, rather more damaging than those in his Decca version, but not so many as those on the deleted LP set on DG conducted by Keilberth, recorded live at Munich in 1963.
As William Mann commented when reviewing the reissue of the 1956 Decca set, Böhm's direction has "a fantastic, absolutely appropriate dynamism", and he never lost that even in his later years, as you can judge here. Of course, in every way the sound is superior to that on the older set, and throughout the Vienna strings play with an unmatchable Straussian glow, while the rest of the orchestra cope unflinchingly with this unbelievably complex score.
Opinions of the work itself will always differ. I am inclined more to Norman Del Mar's scepticism towards it than Mann's out-and-out enthusiasm. The banal and the bombastic seem often to rub shoulders with passages where Strauss is at his most sublime; Strauss too often seems defeated by the confused symbolism of the libretto and what Del Mar calls its "impenetrable intricacies". At the same time, much of the Third Act lives at an elevated level hardly found in earlier or later works. It is Böhm's skill to make us forget, much of the time, the obfuscation and enjoy the beauties and fantasies.
If the cast occasionally sounds a little elderly, its unrivalled understanding of its collective task wins through by the end. Nilsson's Dyer's Wife is least worried by the passing years, and here she gives a performance of a role that demands a rich lower register as well as a gleaming top to set beside her Elektra and Salome, indeed at certain points surpass them in sheer involvement and moving utterance. Anyone who may have thought her a cold singer needs to hear her remorse when she realizes the anguish she has caused her husband, Barak, sung here—as it was a few years ago at Covent Garden—with sympathetic warmth and generous breadth by Walter Berry. He is not always quite secure in line or pitch, but who cares when he is so obviously singing from deep within himself. Leonie Rysanek has remained unrivalled as the Empress for some 30 years. Here, after an initial huskiness, she gives an interpretation of more depth and understanding than she did on the 1956 set, and soars to the heights with almost equal ease. Her two long solos explore to the full the character's agony of soul and growing selfrealization. As her Emperor, James King copes well with the role's awkward tessitura, but his tone is often on the dry side.
Ruth Hesse makes the Nurse into a ruthless schemer, as she did on stage at Covent Garden, and the microphone often catches an edge on her tone. Smaller roles are taken with understanding by members of the Vienna ensemble. As I have implied, the recording lets us hear much more of the score than on the previous two and faithfully captures the excellent acoustics of the Vienna State Opera. Compact Disc has the inestimable advantage of giving us an act per disc.
Out-and-out Straussians may want to wait for the truly complete versions that may come later. On the other hand, those are hardly likely to surpass the conductor, orchestra and cast assembled here, all of whom had benefited by career-long experience of the work, and convey with entire conviction the moral dilemmas and psychological confusions of Hoffmannsthal's involved scenario. Strauss is well served by them. The work itself being so difficult to stage, benefits a lot from being heard in the home where one can imagine for oneself the fantastical milieus and supernatural interventions predicated by the authors—not to mention the pleasure of watching the intricate workings of Strauss's most ambitious score. Now please can we have the Böhm/Rysanek Elektra, Böhm's final homage to Strauss, and possibly Rysanek's greatest achievement
-- Gramophone [2/1986] review of original release, DG 415473
Album contains 24-page booklet with tracklists, program notes; a synopsis and libretto in German, English, and French. Read less
Works on This Recording
Die Frau ohne Schatten, Op. 65by Richard Strauss Performer:
Birgit Nilsson (Soprano),
Leonie Rysanek (Soprano),
Ruth Hesse (Mezzo Soprano),
James King (Tenor),
Walter Berry (Bass Baritone),
Peter Wimberger (Bass),
Ewald Aichberger (Tenor),
Gertrude Jahn (Alto),
Hans Helm (Baritone),
Lorenzo Alvary (Bass),
Murray Dickie (Tenor),
Lotte Rysanek (Soprano)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1914-1918; Germany Date of Recording: 1977 Venue: Live Vienna State Opera House Length: 175 Minutes 4 Secs. Language: German
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Quite Possibly UnsurpassedMarch 9, 2015By Ivan G. (East Elmhurst, NY)See All My Reviews"My headline pretty much says it all. The singing is what should deliver and it does just that in spades. The ladies are superb, but should we expect anything less when the leads are Rysanek and Nill- son? The men are equally superb. The orchestral playing of the Wiener Stattsoper is on the same exalted level as would be expected, support- ing the singers at all times without drowning them out and at the same time coming into their own when called for. Of course, all this would be for naught without the leadership of Karl Bohm, arguably the greatest Strauss conductor ever - only Karajan and Solti come close in my opinion. As far as rival recordings go only Bohm's own 50's account with the VPO is a serious competitor, but the recording under review is a live performance adding that much more fire to the mix. So there you have it - buy and enjoy. I doubt you'll regret it."Report Abuse
Amazing!November 5, 2014By William N. (Baldwinsville, NY)See All My Reviews"From first note to last, this recording is one of the finest examples of a live recording. Every participant is at the very top of the field. I can't imagine anything finer."Report Abuse