Strauss: Salome

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Salome
PERFORMER: Inga Nielsen, Robert Hale, Reiner Goldberg, Anja Silja; Danish National RSO/Michael Schønwandt
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9611(2)
Experiencing Salome should never be cosy. That it often can be is probably due to the ease with which orchestras and singers make light of its still horrendous musical challenges and we listeners, seduced by Strauss’s brilliant musico-dramatic legerdemain, desensitised by the moral indifference of our age and, buttressed by the dubious credo of art for art’s sake, blithely partake of its shamelessly manipulative cynicism. This excellent addition to a discography which, despite some very honourable mentions (Solti, Karajan, et al), still boasts no ideal Salome, is not totally perfect, but by reminding us what an appalling masterpiece it really is must take pride of place in the catalogue.

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First among equals is the Salome of Inga Nielsen, a remarkable singing actress whose voice slips effortlessly from girlish petulance to hochdramatisch amplitude with terrifying nonchalance. She may lack the cutting power of Birgit Nilsson, but her teasing, Lolita-ish assumption is frighteningly convincing.

To complement her is a supporting cast which, with the exception of some unpleasant shrieking from Anja Silja’s Herodias, relies largely on excellent singing alone to revitalise the text such that even the most inconsequential exchanges reverberate with meaning: Robert Hale is the solid, dependable Jokanaan, Deon van der Walt the mellifluous Narraboth, while Reiner Goldberg, without caricature, presents his tortured Herod as an almost sympathetic figure.

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Crowning the whole magnificent set is orchestral playing from the Danish National Radio Symphony of world-class quality, richly textured yet finely detailed and enhanced by recorded sound in which voices and orchestra emerge as partners, not rivals. Michael Schønwandt’s direction, eschewing vulgarity, is alert to every twist and turn of the plot yet remains firmly in control of larger perspectives, and rejuvenates even the hackneyed old Dance, which is presented as spellbinding mini tone poem rather than tawdry display piece. On now to Elektra please.