Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Closing scene from Salome

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Ein Heldenleben; Closing scene from Salome
PERFORMER: Alessandra Marc (soprano); NDR SO Hamburg/Donald Runnicles
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-23293-2
Unusual bedfellows on CD, Strauss’s two most controversial protagonists may seem like typical children of their time. Yet his hero possesses unexpected wit and sensitivity, and his warped teenage princess yearns instinctively for a true love tragically at odds with her situation. Runnicles makes one think afresh about the composer’s mock-epic self-portrait. Realising, perhaps, that he cannot make of his personable but hardly world-class Hamburg orchestra the knight in shining armour we hear in Tilson Thomas’s hugely exuberant LSO performance (not currently available), he dresses his hero in everyday clothes. He emphasises instead a lithe, muscular match for the nimbly phantasmagorical critics-adversaries and a life-partner who, in the hands of the orchestra’s leader Stefan Wagner, compensates for lack of heft with countless subtleties in a true dialogue with her slow-to-kindle lover. Textures are transparent throughout, and I’d never quite appreciated before quite how tellingly placed are the self-quotations in the ‘Works of Peace’ section – starting with the naive and childlike and progressing to mature sensuality and yearning.

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This bleeding chunk of Salome asks us to begin by peering into the cistern before John the Baptist’s execution, though it bypasses the Herods’ reactions just before the end. Marc is no match for her conductor’s intellect, vague at times of pitch and diction, and even a recording as fine as this does little justice to the unexpected power of her plush-velvet soprano. Still, she gives some sense of the surprising nostalgia at the heart of what Tim Ashley, in his short, sharp booklet note describes as ‘a love scene of overwhelming beauty’. David Nice