R. STRAUSS: Five Songs; Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Op. 60; Salome, Op. 54: Dance of the 7 Veils; Closing Scene – Jessye Norman, soprano/ London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Klaus Tennstedt – LPO – 0122 (10/7/21) (77:12) [Distr. By PIAS] *****:
In 1983, Soprano Jessye Norman (1945-2019) and conductor Kurt Masur recorded for Philips music by Richard Strauss, including the Four Last Songs and six selected lieder. Here, 4 May 1986 in concert at the London Philharmonic, Norman and Klaus Tennstedt partially repeat the program, omitting the Four Last Songs and one of the songs, “Morgan,” but adding the extended, final scene from the 1891 opera Salome, noted, even notorious, for its “purple-prose” depiction of Princess Salome’s attempt to seduce John the Baptist. The vibrant, aerial character of Norman’s voice seems at the peak of her expressive powers, from the impassioned yearning in “Cäcilie,” Op. 27 No. 2, to the tranflsfigured innocence of “Wiegenlied,” Op. 41, No. 1. The songs of Op. 27 were meant as a wedding gift to wife Pauline de Ahna from composer Strauss.
Recorded at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London, the sonic image proves immediate and alert, courtesy of Andrew Walton and Deborah Spanton. The 1911 arrangement of scenes from Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, in Tennstedt’s galant performance, emerges with a luscious clarity, with much warmth in the LPO winds and the violin solo from leader David Nolan. The suite came about as a gift for impresario Max Reinhardt, whose efforts in Berlin in behalf of Der Rosenkavalier were well appreciated. Many of the set pieces for this Comedy-Ballet derive from the French composer Lully, whose music seems apt for a burlesque on the pretenses and ambitions of the nouveau-riche. The pièce de résistance occurs in the extended Dinner Scene, where Strauss quotes his own work appropriate to the courses served, such the dish or thrushes and larks accompanied by bird-calls from Der Rosenkavalier.
From the light, hearty sophistication of Molière to the sensual decadence of Oscar Wilde proves rather an emotive leap, given the power of the 1904 score, which in production has encountered censorship. When the young, 16-year-old, spoiled Princess first meets John the Baptist, their encounter occurs in an innocent C Major. But Johaanen refuses her advances, her desire to kiss his mouth. The Dance of 7 Veils, requested by the incestuous King Herod, will include a C# Minor waltz that thoroughly perverts the first encounter, given that Salone will demand Johnanaan’s head as her reward for her erotic gestures to please Herod. In the closing scene, initiated by the executioner’s lifting the severed head for Herod to behold, and for Salome both to mock and admire in a weird fusion of the trope of love and death. Even as Salome exerts her sordid will upon the severed head, reveling in her power, Herod stands horrified by this blasphemy upon the person of a holy man, and he orders Salome to be crushed by the shields of his honor guard.
The sheer range of colors and textures sets a potent standard for the LPO audience, who thrill to the expressive potency of Norman as assisted by the splendid level of orchestral discipline. Norman’s voice sails from voluptuous carnality to naive modesty, sexual mastery to demure shyness. “If only you would have looked at me, you would have loved me,” claims the triumphant Princess, set to the musical invocation of both Beethoven’s Fifth and Wagner’s Tristan. The last sequence brings in the moonlight, the very symbol of human irrationality, whose light now informs Herod of the horrific consequences of lust, his and Salome’s. This music still retains its ability to seduce and shock us simultaneously. Just listen to this London audience react to a master concert!
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