Emily Magee, Wolfgang Koch, Michaela Schuster, Peter Bronder, Benjamin Bruns; Frankfurt Radio Symphony/Andrés Orozco-Estrada
Pentatone PTC 5186 602 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Some claim that Richard Strauss’s Salome is a symphonic poem with voices added. That’s how Andrés Orozco-Estrada interprets it, missing the essential drive of the operatic narrative. True, many of the motifs are orchestrally led, but quite a few fit the words (‘Er ist schreklich’ – ‘he is horrible’, as Salome sings of John the Baptist; or ‘Gib mir den Kopf des Jokanaan’ – ‘give me the head of Jokanaan’). What we gain here in exemplary clarity of Strauss’s sonic spider-web we lose in momentum for, say, the climactic welter which ends in Jokanaan’s curse, or the increasing desperation of Herod’s attempts to divert his stepdaughter from her grisly request. It’s all too leisurely for stage drama, though the singers articulate the text urgently throughout.
Emily Magee as the spoiled princess propels the drama. At first she sounds too much like her mother Herodias in her determination, missing Hildegard Behrens’s evocation of teenage innocence/curiosity for Karajan. Yet the demands for a ‘16-year old with the voice of an Isolde’ are rarely met, and Magee has strength and passion in spades for the queasy final scene with the severed head.
The other main singers all sound a bit past their prime, and one wishes Wolfgang Koch could sing nobly as well as with stentorian authority. Smaller parts are well taken, though, and the orchestra triumphs in a teasing account of Salome’s Dance, oboe and flute solos never more nuanced. Definitely to be experienced if you already own Karajan, Solti or Sinopoli and want a different take.