> STRAUSS Friedenstag [TB]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Albert Dohmen ... Kommendant
Deborah Voigt ... Maria
Alfred Reiter ... Wachtmeister
Tom Martinsen ... Schätze
Jochen Kupper ... Konstabel
André Eckert ... Musketier
Jürgen Commichau ... Hornist
Jochen Schmeckenbecher... Offizier
Matthias Henneberg... Frontoffizier
Jothan Botha ... Ein Piemonteser
Attila Jun ... Der Holsteiner
Jon Villars ... Bürgermeister
Sami Luttinen ... Prëlat
Sabine Brohm ... Frau aus dem volke
Staatsopernchor Dresden
Staatskapelle Dresden
Giuseppe Sinopoli
Rec September 1999, Lukaskirche Dresden
DG 463 494-2 [76.03]


Although Friedenstag (1938) may not be, and probably never can be, one of the more celebrated of Strauss's operas, it occupies a particularly interesting place in his life. It was conceived and written during the later 1930s, at the time when his relationship with the Nazis was at its most difficult.

Although the libretto for Friedenstag was by Josef Gregor, he had been recommended to Strauss by the Jewish poet Stefan Zweig (librettist of the earlier opera Die schweigsame Frau (1936), who became black-listed by the Nazis and left Germany in 1938.

Friedenstag is cast in a single act and, as its name suggests, is a celebration of the ideal of peace. The style is relatively austere, concerning a story set in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years War.

The Commandant of a fortress under siege resolves to die rather than surrender, but then news of peace arrives and he and his former enemy embrace with vows to work for a better world. Strauss complained that this kind of text did not really suit his gifts and the project was therefore 'a tiring assignment'. And it is true that the nature of this work is somewhat different from the norm. Male voices dominate (see the cast list) and there is an important role for the chorus, with a good deal of solemn choral writing. However, there is an important part for the Commendant's wife, and her dignified aria is a memorable inspiration which therefore has a special place in the opera.

Given all this, it is no surprise that Friedenstag has been recorded relatively few times, just as it is seldom performed in the theatre. But as we would expect of a master like Strauss, the work contains fine music and a true understanding of how its particular agenda can communicate to an audience. It is also a one act opera which lacks an obvious partner.

This good new recording takes a worthy place alongside a rather distinguished discography. In fact the opera's original cast recorded the piece (the performance used to be available on Koch Swann, but is no longer available). The cast featured artists of the calibre of Hans Hotter and Viorica Usuleac, conducted by Clemens Krauss, and Strauss supervised the recording sessions. The there is a version on Koch Classics (37111-2) conducted by Robert Bass, with a talented cast throughout the long list of characters. Yet another worthy performance is conducted for EMI by that excellent Straussian Wolfgang Sawallisch (CDC5 56850-2), again well sung, with Sabine Haas and Bernd Weikl taking the leading roles.

Where does this new version conducted by the late Giuseppe Sinopoli fit in relation to this strong discography? The answer is unequivocal: it takes a worthy place but it does not assume the position of clear leader. The greatest strength of the performance is the marvellous choral singing, which is also well recorded and expertly balanced by both the engineers and the conductor. The noble closing scene is therefore splendidly effective and life-enhancing.

If there are doubts, or at least misgivings, they concern the individual singers. Albert Dohman makes a powerful figure as the Commandant, as he should, yet there is not necessarily the ring of nobility to his voice that ideally the role demands (try Hotter for comparison). Deborah Voigt as the Commandant's wife has the only female role of any importance, and she makes a strong impression, as her Wagnerian credentials would lead us to expect. She is at her best in the more forceful music, but she does not quite summon the eloquence that the part demands.

The secondary roles, and there are plenty of them, are competently but not strongly taken, and in comparison Sawallisch fares better with his cast. There is nothing particularly wrong with the singers Sinopoli has assembled, but they are less distinguished both individually and as a team. This performance is therefor best described as a useful addition to the catalogue rather than a compelling and definitive addition to it.

Terry Barfoot

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