R Strauss: Salome – final scene; Capriccio – excerpts; Four Last Songs

WORKS: Salome – final scene; Capriccio – excerpts; Four Last Songs
PERFORMER: Nina Stemme (soprano); Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: 378 7972
Due to the current state of the industry, Antonio Pappano never gets to record more than bleeding chunks of the Strauss operas (he last did so, gloriously, for Natalie Dessay and distinguished company in the Virgin disc Amor). Yet nothing illustrates better his genius for going straight to the theatrical heart of the matter than the opening blaze of this Salome finale. It’s both beautifully textured and keenly energised, and his sense of the drama seems to have rubbed off on Nina Stemme’s Salome, poised between anger and nostalgia, and Gerhard Siegel’s anxious Herod. This is, of course, Stemme’s showcase. The young Swedish soprano’s dark timbre – very mezzoish at the start of the Four Last Songs – and fast vibrato may not be to all tastes, and her tone-colour is, as yet, rather limited. She does have a clear, intelligent way with the texts, and the voice opens out resplendently above the stave in the soaring phrases of the songs. The moon which illuminates the brutal crushing of Salome also shines, in Pappano’s hands delicately rather than refulgently, into the chateau of Capriccio’s Countess Madeleine, evidently in a different kind of erotic lather from the Palestinian princess, though it’s a pity the interchange between the lady of the house and her major domo has been cut. Stemme may not touch the melting mood of Dame Kiri or Gundula Janowitz here, and Christine Brewer’s Four Last Songs (Telarc), like her Isolde, is obviously more opulent. But Stemme’s is definitely a major talent, maybe best seen as well as heard. David Nice