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Richard Strauss: Elektra
10 Sep 2009

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Archival radio recordings of complete operas seldom have ideal sound, but the audio is usually sharper than that of a live performance while still carrying a comparable dramatic immediacy.

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Gertie Charlent; Hasso Eschert; Res Fischer; Heiner Horn; Hans Hotter; Ilsa Ihme-Sabisch; Helmut Melchert; Kathe Moller-Siepermann; Helene Petrich; Arno Reinhardt; Kathe Retzmann; Trude Roesler; Leonie Rysanek; Marianne Schroeder; Marlies Siemeling; Astrid Varnay. Cologne Radio Chorus. Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. Richard Kraus, conducting.

Capriccio C5008 [2CDs]

$16.99  Click to buy

Such is the case with this 1953 Köln Rundfunk Elektra, conducted by Richard Kraus. From the first exclamation from one of the house servants, Kraus sets a trajectory of fervid tension, and the commendable Köln Rundfunk orchestral and choral forces keep the manic pace up right to the end.

Three great names dominate the cast. The preeminent Wotan of his time, Hans Hotter sings an Orest of such nobility that it makes Elektra almost obtuse in not recognizing her brother sooner. No one expects an Elektra to have a beautiful voice, and Astrid Varnay doesn’t, but she does have the power and edge to define her crazed, pathetic character. 1953 was still fairly early in Leonie Rysanek’s career, and she would go on to sing Chrysothemis for many years, right up until the famed Metropolitan Opera broadcast with Birgit Nilsson. There are times in this recording when the steelier qualities to both Rysanek and Varnay’s tones overlap enough to blur the distinction between the two sisters. The compensating virtues of their dramatic commitment should ameliorate that problem for most listeners. Res Fischer’s Klytämnestra, along with Helmut Melchert as her paramour, keep pace with their more well-known colleagues.

Capriccio’s booklet has minimal credits and a brief note by Gerhard Persché focused exclusively on the opera. Surely more information about this particular performance exists somewhere, and at the very least, some artist information should be provided. Quibbles. For a performance as exciting as this, avid listeners can do a little online research themselves to fill int he blanks in the documentation. Admirers of this opera and these performers should make no efforts at resistance to this set. It honors Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s creation.

Chris Mullins

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