Strauss: Elektra

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Profil Hanssler
WORKS: Elektra
PERFORMER: Felicity Palmer, Deborah Polaski, Anne Schwanewilms, Grahem Clark, Franz Grundheber; WDR Radio Choir & SO, Cologne/Semyon Bychkov
Of all repertory operas, Elektra is one of the hardest to record, presenting the almost insurmountable challenge of combining towering vocal performances in each major role with Strauss’s juggernaut of an orchestra, and capturing them in vivid sound. Under Semyon Bychkov, one of today’s most outstanding Straussians, this new recording from Cologne raises the stakes very high, though in the vocal department it fails to dispel memories of some great past performances. For all her energy and intelligence, Deborah Polaski fails to translate all the subtlety she has shown on stage in the title role into a studio context. There are already several great Elektras on record, none surpassing the late lamented Birgit Nilsson.  


But when it comes to the orchestra, Bychkov trumps the competition spectacularly. He conducts the score uncut and summons up all its exultant power; but in addition to the growling savagery of Solti and others he finds rare warmth and glow. Most conductors straightjacket this work into either Wagnerian or Schoenbergian moulds, but Bychkov does it the favour of treating it like Strauss. Felicity Palmer is an imperious Klytämnestra who really sings the notes. Anne Schwanewilms sounds appropriately feminine even in Chrysothemis’s most demanding moments. Even if Franz Grundheber (Orest) and Graham Clark (Aegisth) have better rivals on disc, and though the packaging is a little skimpy, this is a recording no one who cares about Strauss should


be without. John Allison