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Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Vier letzte Lieder + 15 Lieder
2 Lieder from Op. 68:
1. No. 2: Ich wollt’ ein Sträusslein binden [3:07]
2. No. 3: Säusle, liebe Myrthe [4:36]
Mädcheblumen, Op. 22:
3. No. 1: Kornblumen [2:07]
4. No. 2: Mohnblumen [1:23]
5. No. 3: Epheu [2:42]
6. No. 4: Wasserrose [3:24]
3 Lieder from Op. 10:
7. No. 4: Die Georgine [4:03]
8.  No.7: Die Zeitlose [1:24]
9. No. 8: Allerseelen [3:08]
4 Lieder, Op. 27:
10. No. 1: Ruhe, meine Seele! [3:30]
11. No. 2: Cäcilie [2:09]
12. No. 3: Heimliche Aufforderung [3:09]
13. No. 4: Morgen! [3:33]
14. Das Rosenband, Op. 36 No. 1 [3:04]
15. Heimkehr, Op. 15 No. 5 [2:21]
Vier letzte Lieder:
16. Frühling [3:13]
17. September [4:22]
18. Beim Schlafengehen [5:04]
19. Im Abendrot [6:30]
Barbara Hendricks (soprano)
Wolfgang Sawallisch (piano) (3-15)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch (1, 2, 16-19)
rec. September, October 1994, Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia (1, 2, 16-19); September 1995, Bavaria Studios, Munich (3-15)
Texts and English translations included.
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 55594 2 5 [62:56]

I have pointed out before that Barbara Hendricks has a voice that is among the purest and most beautiful now before the public. Her characteristic quick vibrato also makes her immediately recognizable. She is also among the most musical in her trade with an unfailing sense of phrasing and taste. What she lacks is a wider spectrum of colours. Whether she sings Mozart, Strauss or Puccini it is the same tonal palette, which tends to give an impression of anonymity. I am fully aware that not all listeners react as I do and I hasten to add that I belong to her deepest admirers for pure singing. Sometimes it is more than satisfying just to wallow in the beauty of the singing. It depends very much on what kind of repertoire it is. Lieder singing requires more nuance, more shading and more changing of voice character; sometimes I miss that quality in Ms Hendricks’ readings. The first two songs here, with orchestra, from Op. 68, neither of them very often heard, are well sung but in a generalized way.

Accompanied by the flexible Wolfgang Sawallisch she makes much more of the four songs under the collective heading Mädchenblumen, also relative rarities. Here she is certainly alert to the varying moods: hushed and intimate in No. 1, lively and outgoing in No. 2, melancholy in No. 3, ethereal in No. 4. The youthful freshness of the three songs from Op. 10, composed in 1882-83 when Strauss was still in his teens, comes over well through her heartfelt singing and she is deeply touching in Allerseelen with its juxtaposition of love of the past and the day that belongs to the dead. Ruhe, meine Seele, the first of the 4 songs Op. 27, belongs in the same sphere but is bleaker, more resigned while the other three are, each in their own way, life-enhancing. All these readings in fact contradict my general view about limited vocal colours.

When it comes to Vier letzte Lieder reservations come creeping in. These are honest, well-considered readings and accompanied by the superb Philadelphia Orchestra the result can’t be anything but compelling – but again in a generalized way. I warm to her musical phrasing, I warm to the beauty of her voice but I look for deeper expression in vain. I don’t believe anyone buying this disc will feel seriously disappointed – it is after all a record of one of the most accomplished singers of our time – and I will certainly listen to it again. However when I want to hear even more satisfying readings of this marvellous score I have four special favourites: Lisa Della Casa and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, both from the mid-1950s and the earliest commercial recordings of the songs; from more modern times Soile Isokoski and – released just half a year ago – Nina Stemme. I have another half-dozen, each of them with considerable merits – and Barbara Hendricks is added to that list – but for unalloyed pleasure the four mentioned versions are from my point of view the most recommendable.

Göran Forsling




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