STRAUSS: Excerpts from Ariadne auf Naxos and
Sir Thomas Beecham was fortunate to be born into a very wealthy family. For the most part he used that money wisely, particularly in regard to music, subsidizing a number of English orchestras including the London Symphony. Doubtless this was a major factor in his knighthood, bestowed in 1916 when he was only thirty-six. Sir Thomas championed music of his friend, Richard Strauss. Elektra was the first Strauss opera to be presented in England, February 19, 1910, at Covent Garden with Beecham on the podium. In later years he conducted British premieres of Salome, Der Rosenkavalier and Ariadne auf Naxos. His interest in Strauss manifested itself in a Strauss Festival he presented in London in the autumn of 1947. At the time Strauss was a controversial figure because of his Nazi association, and this was a rather risky undertaking. Strauss, more than eighty at the time, accepted Beecham's invitation to come to the festival, where he conducted his Symphonia domestica in Royal Albert Hall, and received many honors.
At the time, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was new, having been founded by Beecham just a year earlier. The Strauss Festival programs included the Prelude and final scene of Ariadne auf Naxos, October 12, 1947, and two concert performances of Elektra in the BBC Concert Hall October 24/26, all reportedly highly praised by Strauss. The BBC Elektra has been issued on several pirate labels; currently it is available on Myto (Myto Historic 81004), in the best sound I've ever heard - still rather limited, but good enough to convey the superb performance. Beecham's Strauss is not as highly-charged as Reiner or Mitropoulos but it builds to a mighty climax. Schlüter's Elektra is serviceable; she of course is no Nilsson or Varnay, but she is superior to anyone singing the role today. The real interest here is the Chrysothemis of Ljuba Welitsch, one of the very few complete opera recordings of the remarkable Bulgarian soprano. But the complete live performance of Elektra is different from what is heard on this fascinating Preiser CD. At the same time as the Festival, RCA recorded the Recognition scene and a somewhat abbreviated version of the final scene. The latter was issued on four 78 rpm discs (Victor M 1247) and later on LP (LCT 1135). It is this studio recording that is heard on Preiser's CD, along with more than a half-hour of Ariadne, also from RCA recording sessions, distinguished by Maria Cebotari's singing of the title role and here issued for the first time. Highly recommended!
R.E.B. (Sept. 1999)