Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concluding his excellent booklet-note for the Ozawa set, Michael Kennedy reminds us of Strauss's description of Salome as ''a scherzo with a fatal conclusion'' and quotes Dallapiccola's verdict on a 1930 performance conducted by Zemlinsky which ''made the score as transparent as that of Cosi fan tutte''. All three composers would, I think, be enthralled by Dohnanyi's interpretation. The conclusion may be less than overwhelmingly fatal, but the rest strokes and teases with a sharper focus than the otherwise scherzo-like Nagano achieves on Virgin (in the French language version), and with a lighter touch than the equally texture-conscious Sinopoli. I would have liked a slightly more forward placement for the orchestra, but the Decca production is helpful with the few questions of balance that Dohnanyi can't achieve single-handedly: not long after a suitably moonstruck curtain-up, for instance, the heckelphone comes through loud and clear, and it makes a striking impression as Salome plays with the first of her seven veils. Every new recording of the opera reveals details never heard before, but this is richer than most in that respect: I should single out from a long list the constant refinement of the violin divisions, the trumpets' astonishing realization of Herodias's peacock screams as Herod stalls for time and the string flailings, prophetic of the Miraculous mandarin's urban panic, just before Salome's Liebesverklarung.
The pace is swift and light—rooted in the theatrical fluency of the intimate Salzburg production from which the performance originates (the arrival of the Herods and their entourage is a fine case in point) and which lends all the smaller roles an extra degree of vividness in characterization, disappointing only in the lack of a certain largesse for the final scene. Dohnanyi certainly seems anxious to keep the oracular utterances of Jokanaan on the move, which makes it the more interesting to have Terfel's characterization in quite a different context from that of the Sinopoli recording. There, he made the prophet nobler and broader of phrase than Strauss could ever have imagined, here, the big 'sea of Galilee' solo and the later warning from the cistern (''Siehe, der Tag ist nahe'') begin with a tenderness and an intimacy which shed a new light on the role—based again, one imagines, on director Luc Bondy's use of the smaller Salzburg theatre (the fastish approach to the religious question is less fair on Peter Rose's velvety, handsomely recorded First Nazarene—his significant pleading needs more time to make its impact following the squabble than Dohnanyi allows).
Terfel also brings out the terrifying side to Jokanaan right at the start of the confrontation with Salome. Malfitano is exactly right here: girlish and fresh of tone—listen to the poetry of wonder she lavishes on the moon shortly after her excited entry if less concerned with the colouring of certain phrases than Cheryl Studer or Jessye Norman. Certainly she lacks the cut for the princess's swings into moods of violent hatred—a problem later when sticking to her demands for the Baptist's head—but it is interesting to hear a Salome who preserves a certain bright innocence for the closing scene, as well as a telling hint of nostalgia for what might have been. With its distinctive but not distressing spread above the stave and its openness in the middle register, the voice sounds curiously like that of the young Anja Silja. Silja, incidentally, is the Herodias in the Bondy production at Covent Garden, Hanna Schwarz sings Herodias on the recording, a solid imperious foil to the whinings of Riegel's plausibly neurotic Herod. The passage in which he makes vain offerings to appease the fixated Salome, always a good test of a performance's theatrical momentum, falls somewhere between the extremes of Sinopoli's detail-fixated, rather solid reading and the sweep of the two most compelling interpretations, Bohm's and Karajan's: a gem-studded inventory lacking the last degree of urgency, but fascinating in its own way.
That is also true of the performance as a whole which is certainly clearer than Karajan's muddily-recorded but none the less heady indulgence, and boasts a brass section far more capable of lending a cutting edge than Bohm's Hamburg State Opera ensemble (the VPO horns are magnificent). On the Philips set, Jessye Norman's heroine provided the detailed case for another Salome single-handedly; here it is Dohnanyi's intelligent thoughts which command a special hearing.
-- Gramophone [4/1995]
reviewing the original release of this recording, Decca 444178