Strauss: Elektra

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Elektra
PERFORMER: Waltraud Meier, Deborah Polaski, Alessandra Marc, Johan Botha, Falk Struckmann; Berlin State Opera Chorus, Berlin Staatskapelle/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-99175-2 DDD
‘A brilliant musical description of cruelty’, is how Daniel Barenboim describes Elektra, but strangely his interpretation as recorded here is less notable for the relish with which he highlights Strauss’s more lurid inventions and shows of machismo thanfor his mastery of the score’s more symphonic moments. Quite rightly Barenboim perceives only one genuine climax – Elektra’s crazy dance of death at the end, and consequently and convincingly he subordinates the others to their proper place in the structural hierarchy.

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In that crucial respect, Barenboim’s account resembles Sawallisch’s on EMI and, on its own, perhaps more puritanical terms, is equally successful, as much for its finely detailed, sharply characterised orchestral playing as for its satisfying sense of the opera’s giddy ebb and flow. One may sometimes wish for the gut-stabbing excitement of Solti’s version on Decca at certain key moments, but the cumulative effect of this interpretation more than compensates for the absence of cheap momentary sensations.

It means too that we aren’t faced with three wobbly sopranos battling to be heard. Barenboim’s is an attractive, light-voiced team led by Deborah Polaski’s sensitive, saner-than-usual Elektra, well contrasted with Alessandra Marc’s touching Chrysothemis and the steely mezzo of Waltraud Meier’s Clytemnestra.

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Falk Struckmann delivers his few lines as Orestes with dignity and without the bark which marred his Kurwenal on Barenboim’s recent Tristan recording, another fascinating, if flawed, instance of this conductor’s never less than intelligent approach to the problematic Wagner-Strauss tradition. Antony Bye