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See latest reviews of other albums..., June 2012

This memorable performance of Elektra, one of the best on CD, was issued on several labels, only one, on Capriccio, is currently available—and it is budget price, obviously the one to have. This German Cologne radio…features Astrid Varnay, Leonie Rysanek and Res Fischer, a terrific trio. Varnay… is magnificent, fearless on those high notes, with Rysanek early in her career in what was to become a signature role…Richard Krauss is not Solti or Reiner; there are few orchestral fireworks, but he is in firm control, and provides an effective pause after the second death cry of Klytämnestra. The mono sound is well-balanced and clear, excellent for its time. This is one of the best Elektras on CD. © 2012 Read complete review

Chris Mullins
Opera Today, September 2009

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.

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.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2009

Varnay is one of my all-time favorite sopranos, and this is undoubtedly her best Elektra. Why she doesn’t command a higher posthumous reputation puzzles me. This performance has everything: a flawless legato, rocket-like high notes, and a multi-varied interpretation. I’ve never heard Rysanek in firmer voice, every facet of her performance under control. Res Fischer was a pleasant surprise, just as beautiful of voice but more varied of character than Lisa Della Casa on the famed 1957 Mitropoulos performance. Hotter is excellent, a little infirm on a note here and there but by no means as bad as he became in the 1960s.

Yet what surprised me was the conducting of Richard Kraus, a name unknown to me. When selecting it for review, I only saw his last name and assumed it was Clemens Kraus. Much has been said of his performance here, mostly that it’s the work of a first-rate répétiteur, but I disagree. By approaching the score more lyrically, Kraus (b. 1902, the son of famed Wagner tenor Ernst Kraus) brings out felicities of orchestration often buried by those who only find “beauty in the bellow of the blast.” Whereas Mitropoulos (and Solti after him) set up the orchestra in “surround sound” (at Salzburg, Mitropoulos actually conducted sitting down in the midst of the musicians), Kraus, like the cagey Strauss specialist Karl Böhm, used terraced dynamics and shading to bring his points across. The result is an Elektra with peaks and valleys rather than a constant flow of red-hot lava. There’s much to be said in favor of both approaches.

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