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A famous (and notorious!) recording!

I had the Nilsson/Solti "Elektra" for awhile during my LP days. It was almost as famous for the sonic "production" of John Culshaw as it was for Solti's somewhat frantic performance. It was the subject of a famous/infamous review in "High Fidelity" magazine by the great critic, Conrad L. Osborne. Here's a portion of the article I've linked to below, which summarizes the whole Culshaw/Osborne feud:

High Fidelity critic Osborne described the recording as an "interesting but, so far as I'm concerned, unsuccessful production of Elektra." His February 1968 review "Elektra: A Stage Work Violated? or a New Sonic Miracle?" opens with a direct volley at Culshaw, never mentioned by name: "'Tis a tale of the powers and limitations of the producer. The powers are such these days that a producer is free to create almost any ambience, any effect he wishes. The limitation is that his efforts won't necessarily do what he thinks they will do for the work at hand." Apart from "botched" effects, Osborne cited certain "sound environments" perceptible within scenes to suggest characters inhabiting different locations or worlds within the recording. (Here he focused on the opera's confrontation scene between Elektra and Klytemnestra.) Such choices distractingly fragmented the recording's continuity and demonstrated an incredible act of license. "Beautiful close-ups of the buttresses and gargoyles do not a picture of a cathedral make," Osborne observed in closing.

More at the link below. Of course, I read Osborne's review before I heard the recording, so perhaps he had already set me against it. Nevertheless, Osborne also set the stage for my (and other audiophiles') disgust at the changing acoustic perspectives within the same recording (a practice which was just starting to pick up at that time) which the producers and/or engineers cooked up for their listeners, seemingly moment-by-moment. Made possible by multi-microphoning, this approach is the opposite of the simple, holistic, minimal-microphoning methodology which many companies (including Decca/London!) employed during the "golden age of stereo". From the release of this "Elektra" onward, listeners had to be very wary of any new Decca/London release (not all of them were bad of course) if they wanted pure, ungimmicked sound quality. Of course, Decca/London was by no means the worst culprit in taking this multiple perspective approach (Dynagroove, anyone?), but, for many of us, this Elektra release did mark a significant fork in the road.

Over the years, and despite the great Birgit Nilsson in the title role on the Solti recording, I've come to feel that there have been a number of superior releases of this work, including the live Gwyneth Jones / Jeffrey Tate recording on the Claves label and the Polaski/Bychkov SACD on the Profil label. One of the nice things about the Solti recording is that it IS uncut - the opera is so short, I don't understand why you would need to cut it. But some conductors do the cuts nevertheless.

Surprisingly, I still might get this new remastering of the notorious Culshaw recording anyway - it's one of those recordings which, despite all I've said about it, still exudes a perverse allure, even for listeners like me.

EDIT: Sorry for all the edits. Seems our server is choking on umlauts again!



Edits: 07/07/17 07/07/17 07/07/17

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