STRAUSS Salome / Nilsson 4831498

This famous set is one of those that can be said with some justice to be a 'Classic of the Gramophone'. It is famous not only for the calibre of the cast and the quality of the performance but also for the daring of John Culshaw's audio production . . . [the performance]: In a word, it is magnificent . . . [Solti]: This is a score that suits him down to the ground. At times, he conducts like a man possessed, generating considerable electricity. However, this isn't just a frenetic performance: far from it. There are many subtleties and nuances in the score and the fact that these come through is just as much a tribute to Solti as to the Decca recording technicians. On many occasions, the VPO delivers quite staggering power but the vast orchestra (115-strong) also plays with great refinement whenever Strauss demands it. Strauss's mastery of the modern orchestra arguably reached its zenith in this score and the amazingly imaginative orchestral writing is stunningly realised by the VPO. Solti's direction is electrifying; there's great tension in the air from the first downbeat and he never allows that tension to dissipate. Of course, it helps that Solti has a terrific cast at his disposal as well as the potent resource of the VPO. There really isn't a weak link in the cast. All the subsidiary parts are well taken . . . this 1961 "Salome" does still have the capacity to thrill . . .

. . . the conductor's account of Salome's "Dance" is surely one of the most viscerally exciting on record . . . [Nilsson] sings impressively . . . [Gerhard Stolze] stands out in the supporting cast as a brilliantly pointed and vivid Herod . . . with one of the greatest LP-era Wagnerians in the title-role . . . and stunningly vivid playing from the Vienna Philharmonic under Solti . . . [a] landmark recording . . .

. . . there is a synergy between conductor, orchestra, soloists and production team that delivers something uniquely special. Georg Solti was very much in his element . . . [this recording] couldn't be more strongly recommended, not only on musical and production grounds, but as significant pieces of gramophone history . . . In short, buy [it] . . . [Solti]: his natural instincts for precision, relentless tension and irresistible drive pull the listener almost bodily into the dystopian aura of Herod's court, never letting go until the anti-heroine is crushed beneath the soldiers' shields. For that part, Birgit Nilsson is "sui generis"; whether or not one feels in the aural presence of a seductive teenager, the glorious singing and sonic fantasy of it all create their own spectacle. Her voice's typically hard edge only enhances Salome's wickedness, and its maturity and power leave you in no doubt her depraved temptress means business. Nilsson's final scene is a tour de force, one of the greatest in recorded opera, where you cannot help but be in Salome's thrall; she is as eerily alluring as she is repulsive, and you are a willing voyeur to this scene of morbid horror . . .