Strauss: Elektra - Gergiev

Strauss: Elektra - Gergiev

LSO Live  LSO0701 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (Elektra)
Angela Denoke (Chrysothemis)
Felicity Palmer (Klytämnestra)
Matthias Goerne (Orest)
Ian Storey (Aegisth)
Ekaterina Popova (Overseer/Confidante)
Olga Legkova (First Maid)
Ekaterina Sergeeva (Second Maid/Trainbearer)
Varvara Solovieva (Third Maid)
Tatiana Kravtsova (Fourth Maid)
Lia Shevtsova (Fifth Maid)
Andrei Popov (Young Servant)
Vuyani Mlinde (Old Servant)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev (conductor)

The one-act opera Elektra, containing one of the most demanding soprano roles in the repertoire, is based on the ancient Greek myth as retold by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The work focuses on the relationships between Elektra, Chrysothemis, and their mother Klytamnestra, and the themes of love, hate and revenge. The drama's raw emotions are exquisitely expressed in some of Strauss' finest music.

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Recorded live January 2010
James Mallinson producer
Jonathan Stokes for Classic Sound Ltd. balance engineer
Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - July 4, 2012

This is the second recording of Richard Strauss's Elektra to appear in the SACD format. The first was released in 2006 on the Profil label Strauss: Elektra - Bychkov and was notable for the especially strong casting of the main roles, the thrilling conducting of Semyon Bychkov (always impressive in Strauss) and the imaginative use of multi-channel recording.

This LSO Live version stems from performances and, judging by the photographs in the liner notes, rehearsals given in the Barbican in January 2010.The title role is sung by the American soprano Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet who substituted for an indisposed Eva Johansson. The alarmingly wide vibrato evident in Charbonnet's first monologue 'Allein Weh, ganz allein' becomes rather more controlled as the performance progresses, and she gives a convincing portrayal of the title role thanks not least to her clear diction and excellent command of German. Elektra's less dysfunctional sister Chrysothemis is sung with characteristic intelligence by Angela Denoke whose vocal timbre contrasts well with that of her neurotic sibling. Matthias Goerne is a noble and restrained Orestes. He brings his experience as an outstanding lieder singer to this role, as did Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Karl Böhm's recordings (CD and DVD). His elegant singing and feeling for the words makes the tender recognition scene with Charbonnet memorable. Ian Storey is an admirably forthright and clear-voiced Aegisth. The finest performance, however, is the undoubtedly the Klytämnestra of Felicity Palmer who also sings this part on the Bychkov recording. Over many years she has made this role her own and portrays both the character's terrifying malevolence and deep insecurity in equal measure. The passing years have not substantially diminished her ability to sing securely and her voice can still ride the loudest orchestral climaxes with ease. The smaller roles, maids, servants etc. are competently sung mainly by artists from Gergiev's Mariinsky company.

Few would immediately associate Valery Gergiev with the operas of Richard Strauss though he has had some success with this opera, Salome and most recently Die Frau ohne Schatten. Here he tends to emphasise the modernity of the work at the expense of its lyricism. The brutality engendered by Gergiev's conducting is not inappropriate in this score but here it is unrelenting, and one is all too conscious of the singers, especially Charbonnet, fighting to be heard above the massive orchestra. That said, within the confines of his approach, he does manage to expose orchestral sonorities and textures often lost on alternative recordings of this complex score. The phenomenal playing and virtuosity demonstrated by the 112 players of the LSO combined with the close Barbican sound allows the listener unprecedented access to the inner workings of Strauss's score in a fashion that would be impossible in the opera house. It is also pleasing to note that the score is performed without any cuts.

Elektra lasts around two hours (1hr 48 min. on this recording) and in a good performance should hold the listener in a vice like grip from start to finish. Unless one is hearing it via a DVD or Blu-ray disc, a break is inevitable at some point. LSO Live's recording team's even more unsatisfactory solution to this problem is to avoid a sudden break by fading the music out at the end of the first disc and starting the second disc from where the fade out begins.

As I have indicated LSO Live's 5.1 DSD recording has tremendous impact, though the inevitable dry acoustic is mitigated by the clarity and presence given to every section of the orchestra. The two discs are accompanied by a German/English libretto albeit in the old-fashioned translation by Alfred Kalisch (full of words like nought, methinks and nay) that is nevertheless most welcome when these days so few of the major labels provide any libretti with their product..

Though this might not be a library choice for Elektra and does not, on SACD, surpass the Bychkov version let alone the CD versions from Solti, Sawallisch and Böhm et al., this forceful and engrossing performance does leave a potent impression; for that reason, plus its bargain price, it is worthy of consideration.

Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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