Inside a sweltering Albert Hall, this evening, a second
devoted to the works of Richard Strauss, got off to a cracking start
with the ‘Symphonic Fragment’ from Richard Strauss’ Die Liebe der
Danae (1938-49), originally arranged by the composer’s friend Clemens
Krauss who conducted the long-delayed premiere of the opera in Salzburg
The BBC SO horns produced suitably strident sounds
in the opening storm sequence, which represents Jupiter’s thundering
anger in Act 2 caused by Danae’s love for Midas. In the more lyrical
passages Mackerras conducted with great eloquence and grace, especially
in the opera’s concluding apotheosis and departure of Jupiter back to
Olympus. The BBC SO played with an authentic sounding Straussian accent
with some notably stylish brass and woodwind playing; this skilfully
edited ‘fragment’ deserves and demands to be played more often.
Recently, the soprano Dame Anne Evans announced in
a radio interview that this Prom would mark her last public appearance
and this farewell concert was a fitting tribute to a great Strauss and
Wagner singer. It was also a suitably poignant farewell to see her perform
her celebrated Marschallin, a lady only too aware of the passage of
time and the need to step aside to make way for a younger generation.
What seems incredible is that despite years of singing the most taxing
roles in Wagner and Strauss, which have ruined many a voice, her vocal
powers are still at their peak, and the famed silvery timbre still intact.
After the intoxicating waltz opening, played with great
verve, especially from the rich, swooning horns, the first extract from
the opera was the duet between the Marschallin and her younger lover
Octavian, the travestie role sung here with presence and suitable
‘masculinity’ by the tall and imposing Katerina Karnéus. Mackerras
rightly took this scene representing the morning after a night of illicit
passion between the two lovers at a breathless tempo, emphasising the
passionate love felt by the impressionable younger man for the older,
more experienced woman.
This then gave way to the celebrated soliloquy in which
the Marschallin laments the passage of time, realising that her love
for Octavian will come to an end. Evans was in perfect voice and full
control, her subtle acting skills rising beautifully to the challenge
of this difficult aria.
The ’Presentation of the Rose’ scene introduced us
to Rebecca Evans, singing the role of Sophie in place of the originally
billed Susan Gritton (singing at Glyndebourne instead). Her crystalline
soprano timbre blended exquisitely with the warm mezzo of Karnéus,
and the two singers were totally convincing as future lovers.
The highlights of the evening were the magnificent
trio and concluding duet from this sweetly seductive score.
Again, Mackerras resisted the temptation to play this
music too slowly, to milk the pathos. Instead, he kept up a sweeping,
intoxicating pace and the orchestra responded accordingly, especially
the warm voluptuous horns which so perfectly complimented the singers.
The sublimely blended voices of the three contrasting
characters – the Marschallin resigned to losing her young lover, Octavian
feeling guilt and confusion, and Sophie ecstatically in love - rose
to a magnificent crescendo before the Marschallin’s final "In Gottes
Namen" and leave-taking.
It then remained for the two young lovers to sing the
exquisite final duet, during which Dame Anne was seen to wipe away some
The audience rightly cheered this superb abridged concert
performance, and Mackerras brought Anne Evans back to receive a well-earned
standing ovation from the entire house. This was a farewell concert
to savour, and it will be repeated on BBC Radio 3, 2 pm Friday 8th