It has been quite
a long time, two years in fact, since Volume
One in this projected series appeared and was warmly welcomed
by my colleague, Terry Barfoot. The singer on that occasion
was soprano Christine Brewer. By sheer coincidence at almost
the same time a CD of Strauss orchestral music appeared on the
label, including some lieder in which the soloist was another
soprano, the German singer, Anne Schwanewilms, and Evan Dickerson
was impressed by her singing. Since Evan there expressed a preference
for Strauss lieder with piano accompaniment I hope he will hear
this CD, especially as on this occasion Miss Schwanewilms gets
a whole disc to herself.
On the evidence
of this CD Miss Schwanewilms’s voice is perfectly suited to
Strauss. Her voice has a lovely top and though it’s evenly produced
throughout its compass she’s capable of expanding it wonderfully
in the higher reaches. She has excellent breath control and
this enables her effortlessly to sustain long lines, an attribute
that is a sine qua non for a successful Strauss singer.
The programme has
been well chosen to show off her gifts and, like Christine Brewer’s
disc, the songs are presented in chronological order. Thus,
as with Miss Brewer’s programme, the recital begins with a couple
of the Op. 10 settings, and specifically with Die Nacht.
In his splendid notes Roger Vignoles describes this song as
being informed by a “rapt stillness underpinned by a sense of
barely identifiable foreboding.” That’s just what is conveyed
in this reading of it. Miss Schwanewilms evinces a silvery purity
in the top of her voice and spins a gorgeous, delicate line.
The companion song from op.10, Geduld, is not of quite
the same stature but it’s still sung here with fine feeling.
All’ mein Gedanken is
a well-known favourite, which in Vignoles’s words “perfectly
captures the eager flight of the poet’s thoughts.” Here Schwanewilms
is delightfully spirited and I found her performance captivating.
But, in contrast, she’s just as successful in putting across
the touching tristesse of the lover’s farewell in Ach
Lieb, ich muß nun scheiden.
glad that in this complete Strauss edition Ruhe, meine Seele! has
been allotted to this singer for she sings it marvellously.
It’s one of the composer’s greatest songs, pregnant with meaning
– but with what meaning? I find it an ambiguous song for the
soul is being enjoined to take rest yet the music is full of
foreboding and there’s real dramatic emotion at the words “Diese
Zeiten Sind gewaltig”. Yet this unquiet song was a wedding day
gift from Strauss to Pauline, his wife. What one would give
to have heard her sing the song! But this present performance
will do very nicely, thank you. In fact it’s a superb traversal
with both singer and pianist combining to give a performance
of real tension.
They’re no less
fine in Traum durch die Dämmerung where as well
as the singer’s wonderful line I admired the subtle rubato that
Roger Vignoles brings to the piano part. Here, as in the previous
song, you can tell that both artists are as one, feeling and
breathing the music together. The two companion songs from op.
29 are also realised very well. Both musicians bring a delicious
lightness to Schlagende Herzen and then combine
in a most atmospheric reading of Nachtgang.
The selection from
Op. 49 – five of the eight songs are offered – is well chosen
for contrast. Opening the group with Waldseligkeit
Schwanewilms displays again her effortless breath control in
sustaining long, sensuous phrases. This is a serene, rapt song
and her delivery of it is compelling. Then the “joyfully ebullient”
In goldener Fülle provides an apt foil, to
which she responds avidly. I also enjoyed the twinkle in her
eye – and voice – in Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen and
the touching delicacy in the deliberately modest setting of
The programme concludes
with Drei Lieder der Ophelia. These songs had a
strange genesis, as Roger Vignoles relates. Essentially, Strauss
penned them in something of a hurry with the aim of extricating
himself from a tiresome and protracted dispute with a publishing
house. However, what the composer probably intended as a hasty
work with which to fob off the publishers turned into a rather
remarkable collection. The songs are translations by Karl Joseph
Simrock of speeches by Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet
and in them Strauss conveys the character’s perilous mental
state in a way that perhaps should not surprise us given some
of the writing and character exploration in Elektra and
the last scene of Salome. In these songs Miss Schwanewilms
needs all her histrionic capabilities and she deploys them to
excellent effect. They’re not easy songs to grasp – nor, I should
imagine, to interpret – but they are communicated vividly in
this account, which brings a very fine recital to a notable
This is a superb
disc in every way. The singing and pianism are of the highest
order. The recordings are excellent as are the perceptive notes
by Roger Vignoles. The notes are offered in English, French
and German and the full German texts are given together with
excellent English translations by Richard Stokes.
This fine CD is
a worthy successor to Volume One in the series and an essential
purchase for all lovers of Strauss lieder. I just hope
that Hyperion will not now keep us waiting long for further
instalments in this important series.