Despite the intoxicating singing of Nina Stemme, this recording – her first with EMI – disappoints. The poor production values muffle the Swedish soprano’s gleaming overtones and intelligent interpretation. And in these days of ubiquitous surround sound, it is a pity to hear her only in stereo. Nevertheless, by focusing solely on her singing and tuning out the overpowering orchestra, some of these deficiencies can be mitigated to some extent, but this means more work for the listener. Still, the effort may be worth it.
In the closing scenes of Salome, the award-winning Stemme sings with a voice both durable and shimmery, like leaves dappled in sunlight. Here she is at once girlish and womanly, thus perfectly poised between flightiness and heft. When addressing John the Baptist, she is suitably seductive and sexy, but oddly remote.
In Capriccio, Strauss’s last opera, Stemme is warm, ardent, and in full voice, with perfect intonation. Alas, the sound balance is off, and her lovely tones are masked by the ever-pressing orchestra.
Ditto with the exquisite Four Last Songs, which sound muddled. Here, where an intimate approach is absolutely essential, this recording’s deficiencies become most obvious. The sounds blend into one another maddeningly, and some of the rich colors in the soprano’s voice are lost. For better recordings of these luminous songs, look for Jessye Norman (on Philips), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (EMI), or Cheryl Studer (Deutsche Grammophon).
– Dalia Geffen