Strauss: Elektra

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Actes Sud
WORKS: Elektra
PERFORMER: Hildegard Behrens, Leonie Rysanek, Luana DeVol, Wolfgang Schöne, Daniel Galvez-Vallejo; Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon National Orchestra/Friedemann Layer
CATALOGUE NO: AT 34109 (distr. Na•ve) ADD
Though only second in the established canon of Strauss operas, Elektra remains one of his most modern works – an almost expressionist take on the Greek myth set in the palace of the murdered Agamemnon. Torturous lines and demanding parts for the three angry, damaged women at its centre mean that some performances run the risk of degenerating into screaming matches. But that is not true of a classic recording such as the high-octane Solti version, with Birgit Nilsson and Regina Resnik at their boldest, and nor is it true of this live version from Montpellier.

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Reportedly the highlight of the 1995 Festival de Radio France et de Montpellier, this account has much going for it, beginning with a conductor, Friedemann Layer, on near-blazing form who maintains the tension across the work’s 100-minute span. It also boasts Hildegard Behrens and Leonie Rysanek on bloodcurdling form. Rysanek, who died in 1998 and was herself once a celebrated Elektra, is here a raddled grande-dame of a Klytemnestra, and unless any later performances turn up on disc (she made her farewell to the Met later at the end of 1995 as Tchaikovsky’s Countess) this will remain a historic document. Behrens is caught before the middle of her voice began to wear so seriously, and her Elektra is proud and implacable, not a snarler; she sings with glowing lustre as she recalls her former beauty. The unhappy Chrysothemis is taken not too memorably by Luana DeVol, and the leading men are Wolfgang Schöne (Orest) and Daniel Galvez-Vallejo (Aegisth). But Behrens, Rysanek and, indeed, Layer demand to be heard. John Allison