Valery Gergiev displayed Straussian credentials at last year’s Edinburgh Festival with an exciting but rough-hewn Die Frau ohne Schatten. Much the same could be said of this.
Elektra’s tormented, shattering soundworld makes a grasp of its dynamics more important, not less, and even thunderous recordings such as Georg Solti’s succeed by reining them in. Gergiev, with the LSO in fine form and vivid SACD sound, conveys passions and tensions with compelling, sometimes deafening power. But his less than ideal control makes the music’s flow seem exhausting and slightly monochrome. The sudden quietness of Orestes’s arrival does not still one’s breath as it should.
The cast also shows some strain. American Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet, a fine Wagnerian, is still a touch light for Elektra. She’s strongly involved without, thankfully, overplaying the weirdness, making Elektra more sympathetic in her vengeful desperation, persecuting her hapless sister. Chrysothemis is sung by Angela Denoke with keen intensity but frequent shrillness, and she’s rather too similar to Charbonnet’s tone and colour, adding to the overall sense of uniformity. Matthias Goerne’s Orest is disappointing, suitably sombre but lacking power and presence. Not so Felicity Palmer’s Klytämnestra, the real star of this show, slicing through Gergiev’s soundwall with incisive diction and keen characterisation: she’s neurotic, malevolent but far from the conventional Germanic witch. Ian Storey makes Aegisth’s few lines at once fatuous and menacing. Smaller roles are taken by Mariinsky singers with mostly decent German.
Not an ideal version, then, but worth hearing, not least for sheer excitement.
Michael Scott Rohan