Notes and Editorial Reviews
Reviews of the some of the original recordings that make up this set:
"This recording is a marvel! It was made back in 1957, right before Solti’s Wagner Ring cycle project. Being in the Decca catalog for many years, it has long since become a legendary recording. Although the sound is dated, it still stands as one of the very best. John Culshaw was Decca’s visionary young producer who not only worked on Solti’s Wagner studio recordings, but also on many others among which was this wonderful
was the last collaboration between the composer and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, librettist of Strauss’s most successful operas. Strauss had left the path of modernism he followed earlier with
in order to find a more lyrical, realistic (and less successful) style.
The cast is the real highlight here; Lisa Della Casa was a phenomenal Mozart and Strauss interpreter, ranking among the finest singers of her time. She performed and recorded the role of Arabella frequently, each time with great success. Here, she’s in the prime of her career; fresh and perceptive—without any unnecessary exaggerations. Otto Edelman is simply terrific as Graf Waldner, as is George London as Mandryka, the mistrustful, rich stranger. Both Hilde Gueden as Zdenka (Arabella’s sister) and Ira Malaniuk as Adelaide (their mother) sound very fresh, singing with astounding virtuosity.
Conductor and orchestra are in great shape, too. Georg Solti obviously feels comfortable with Strauss’s orchestration, and he leads the Vienna Philharmonic with fire and insight. His ever-forward pushing approach to the music works particularly well—bringing great passion and excitement. As always with Strauss, the score is tricky for both singers and orchestra; but isn’t that what we have the Vienna Philharmonic for? It produces a gorgeous sound with full basses and warm strings. However, this was recorded from the early days of stereo. At times, the woodwinds sound somewhat squeezed and the brass a bit harsh. Fortunately, the engineers provided us with a first-rate, 24-bit re-mastering."
FANFARE: Bart Verhaeghe
Ariadne Auf Naxos
"Ariadne was recorded in London and Solti is impressive. It is an affectionate, stylish interpretation, with the London Philharmonic playing the delicious score with every evidence of enjoyment... Edita Gruberova's Zerbinetta is in a class of her own, finding much in the role besides coloratura; there is a ripe Music Master from Walter Berry and an even riper Major-Domo from Erich Kunz. The young Rene Kollo sings Bacchus with much ardour and the three nymphs are a British trio, blending notably well. Good quality sound...[with] librettos in German and English."
-- Gramophone [5/1992]
"Shakespeare said it first and best in Macbeth: “It is a tale . . . full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Depending on your views about Elektra, you could think Shakespeare a pointed critic of Strauss’s composition, but that is not what I intended. Rather, it is how I feel about this recording. That others have different views was shown by my colleague Henry Fogel in issue 29:6. Reviewing Semyon Bychkov’s recording, he made much of Solti’s set by comparison, saying that, “it is the raw power and demonic energy of Solti, Nilsson, Resnik, and the Vienna Philharmonic that make this 1961 set a true classic.” So which is it to be?
Yes, I admit that Solti’s recording is replete with sound and fury—in this opera it’s hard to end up with anything else, after all—but I do take issue with much of his conducting per se, even though he provides orchestral support sufficiently large-scaled to match Nilsson’s voice. Of the few singers to really have what the title role demands, Nilsson’s account still stands as a significant achievement. Her commitment is not in doubt, and her famously steely tone cleaves its way through even the thickest orchestration. But is it all too safely done? Where are the risks taken in the music-making?
Of course, this is far from a one-woman show. Regina Resnik provides a magnificent foil to Nilsson’s Elektra as Klytämnestra, coming across as deliciously mad and wild from the start. If only Marie Collier brought quite the same depth of expression to Chrysothemis, but she does not. The main male roles get a more reasonable aspect; Gerhard Stolze offers a brooding Aegisth, and Tom Krause might surprise some with the genuine beauty of his Orest."
FANFARE: Evan Dickerson [9/2007]
Die Frau Ohne Schatten
"In the Heldentenor role of the Emperor, Placido Domingo, the superstar tenor, gives a performance that is not only beautiful to the ear beyond previous recordings but which has an extra feeling for expressive detail, deeper than that which was previously recorded. Hildegard Behrens as the Dyer's wife is also a huge success. Her very feminine vulnerability is here a positive strength, and the voice has rarely sounded so beautiful on record. Julia Varady as the Empress is equally imaginative, with a beautiful voice, and Jose van Dam with his clean, dark voice brings a warmth and depth of expression to the role of Barak, the Dyer, which goes with a satisfyingly firm focus…this recording is unlikely to be matched, let alone surpassed for many years. Solti himself is inspired throughout."
Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2008 Edition, page 1308
"...one of the truly great recordings. Solti's conducting is refreshing, more champagne than schmaltz, yet not unduly driven, and his singers are superb, not just Crespin, Minton and Jungwirth (as Ochs) but the entire ensemble."
- BBC Music Magazine, May 2008
"Produced by John Culshaw and engineered by Gordon Parry this is one of the most blatant examples of Decca’s spectacular Sonicstage recordings from the early stereo age. It could be argued that this is exactly what this music needs. Strauss’s orchestral palette balancing utter vulgarity and ravishing subtlety has probably never been performed, let alone recorded, with such uninhibited ferocity. Relish also the glow to the strings in the many passages where longing, desire and perverse lust are depicted. Solti, always one to revel in the excitement of the moment in preference to the long lines, nevertheless seems to have been in especially happy circumstances during this period. Das Rheingold, Aida, Rigoletto, Siegfried, Don Carlos and Götterdämmerung come to mind. This Salome may even be counted as the finest achievement of them all. It is an overblown reading in an overblown recording, but ‘overblown’ is probably the most accurate adjective for this opera. The carnal brutality is whipped home with such grandeur and so uncompromisingly that one gives in. Others, notably Karajan in his EMI recording from the late 1970s, have brought out more beauty and sensuality but at the same time also lowered the temperature a few degrees. Solti’s treatment is more in line with what Strauss must have wanted. I have admired Karajan’s reading for 25 years, but when it comes to the crunch it is Solti who wins hands down. In this latest 96kHz – 24-bit remastering the sound is even fuller and the sheen on the Vienna Phil’s strings even glossier, so much that on my machine there was a hint of unwanted fizz to the highest notes, but not enough to detract from the enjoyment – if that is the correct word in this case. In the instances when there is no need to be considerate towards the singers ( Solti – and the listeners – can wallow in a torrent of magnificent playing from the VPO. Of course Salome’s dance (is another source of delight.
The reissue is also a fitting tribute to Ms Nilsson as one of her most consummate impersonations on record. She may go down in history as the unsurpassable Isolde and Brünnhilde and, possibly also Turandot, but her Salome, later also Elektra and The Dyer’s Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten were also calling card roles. This recording definitely belies the criticism that she was cold. Cold she may be – and now I talk about Salome and not Birgit. Salome is cold in the sense that she wants her wishes to come true, irrespective of means and consequences. One could argue that, in modern terms, this girl was autistic, focusing on one particular thing, lacking empathy. The desire, the overriding incentive, is the lust to kiss the lips of Jokanaan; perverse no doubt, but passion is never completely devoid of feeling, even empathy. When she first looks down into the cistern to see Jokanaan, she exclaims: "How black it is, down there! It must be terrible to be in so black a pit! It is like a tomb." Nilsson conveys Salome’s awe with a light shiver in the voice. All through the opera she leaves the listener in no doubt that this is a young girl. There is no mistaking her voice for anything but one of the greatest heroic sopranos of all times, steady, shining like stainless Swedish steel. It also expands at climaxes to belittle even Solti’s efforts to drown the singers in his Philharmonic tornados. Likewise impressive is her pianissimo singing and I wonder how many hochdramatische sopranos have ever been able to spin such lovely soft singing on the thinnest thread of tone imaginable; just as steady as the fortissimos and radiating warmth! Former Swedish Minister of Culture, Bengt Göransson, said during a speech held as an introduction to the Aida performance at Dalhalla in August, given as a tribute to Birgit Nilsson, that he remembered a party a number of years ago where Birgit Nilsson was a guest of honour. As usual at Swedish dinner parties, there was some community singing, in which Birgit joined but she didn’t lord "over us amateurs" but scaled down to a community voice with the utmost ease. Hearing her Salome one can understand why. As a curiosity, Nilsson recalls in her autobiography the last recording session when she had just sung the last tone after having kissed Jokanaan’s chopped off head, a large head on a tray appeared in front of her. "I was near having a fit", she writes. The bloody and disgusting head, covered with green-yellow marzipan, turned out to be a wonderfully tasty cake. Orchestra, soloists and recording team lustily feasted on it afterwards! A fitting reward for a grandiose achievement.
And Birgit Nilsson is not alone in vocal glory. Her longstanding partner at numerous performances and a handful of commercial recordings, mezzo-soprano Grace Hoffman, is a Herodias to be reckoned with. She almost matches La Nilsson in volume and glorious tone. One almost wishes that this evil woman had a larger part. Magnificent is Eberhard Wächter’s Jokanaan. Wächter was always a very expressive singer. My first memory of him was the legendary second Schwarzkopf recording of Die lustige Witwe where he was the Danilo of one’s dreams although he was not always ideally steady. Here, though, there is not a trace of unevenness in his delivery. José Van Dam on the Karajan recording is masterly, and possibly even nobler of tone, but Wächter is the more incisive. Generally speaking one both singers are ideal in relation to their respective conductors’ approach. Gerhard Stolze, one of the great character tenors of his, and indeed any, time, creates a deeply penetrating portrait of Herod. He expresses every facet of this unattractive but at the same time fascinating character. CD2 tracks 5–7 should be compulsory listening for every student of singing. How he runs through several stages of emotions to end up in track 7, snarling – a man brought to the limits of his senses. Another important tenor of the last fifty years, Waldemar Kmentt, is an ardent Narraboth, with his characteristic bright tones. He was still singing at the Vienna State Opera a few years ago.
In the long list of secondary parts we find such names as Josephine Veasey (Herodias’s Page), Kurt Equiluz as Third Jew, one of the great Bach singers of the sixties and seventies, the young Tom Krause’s characteristic nut-brown baritone as First Nazarene and Heinz Holecek’s sonorous Second Soldier, another singer who has had an unusually long career. This careful casting contributes to the overall excellence of this recording."
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International