Although it was Richard Wagner who supposedly nicknamed the Staatskapelle Dresden the Wunderharfe, nobody profited of the orchestra’s miraculous sound as Richard Strauss, who premièred some of his masterpieces, such as Salome and Elektra, in the Semperoper. This would be enough to make Dresden a peregrination place for Straussians. Unfortunately I could visit the Semperoper only once – but a whole Strauss program with the house orchestra was tempting enough for a second visit. And there I went.
I am not a great fan of Fabio Luisi and, if I had to single out a positive quality, that would be the fact that he has not interfered with the orchestra’s legendary deluxe sound. As a die-hard Karl-Böhm-fan, I have a problem with Luisi’s fondness for Karajanesque beautiful-at-the-expense-of-clarity sound. Maybe because of that his Till Eulenspiegel lacked lightness and sense of humor, exquisite as the orchestral sound was. Things would change with the Vier letzte Lieder, in which the conductor and the orchestra could produce the right contemplative quality without making things too ponderous, especially in Frühling, which tends to suffer from overkilling.
The concert’s soloist was soprano Anne Schwanewilms, who floated her instrumental soprano without any hint of effort (although some of her notes acquired a strange buzz above the actual sound) through Strauss’s fearsomely difficult phrases. Although she is still not the best friend of legato, her performance deserves the highest praise for its unaffectedness, accuracy, sense of style, beauty of tone and crisp delivery of the text. To this evening, I thought nobody would ever sing the last words of Beim Schlafgehen (…zu le-e-eben) as magically as Gundula Janowitz did in Karajan’s studio recording, but here it is: these notes alone, as sung by Schwanewilms, were worth the ticket’s price (and the expenses with hotel and train). Most deservedly, she received a warm ovation.
The second part of the program consisted of Strauss’s most famous tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, in which Luisi’s inclination for large, refulgent orchestral sounds found good use. Some complex passages still needed more structural transparence, but… what sounds have I heard there! Bathed in oceans of warm orchestral sound and caressed by shimmering floating violin pianissimi, one felt transported to another dimension. All I can say is that the Staatskapelle Dresden is one of the wonders of the world – especially in the ideal acoustics of the Semperoper. If you have the opportunity to make this peregrination, I guarantee that the miracle will happen right around your ears.