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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
The Complete Songs, Volume 1

Zueignung, Op. 10 No. 1
Die Georgine, Op. 10 No. 4
Breit’ über mein Haupt, Op. 19 No. 2
Wie sollten vir geheim sie halten, Op. 19 No. 4
Glückes genug, Op. 37 No. 1
Ich liebe dich, Op. 37 No. 2
Hochzeitlich Lied, Op.37 No. 6
Leises Lied, Op. 39 No. 1
Befreit, Op. 39 No. 4
Wiegenlied, Op. 41 No. 1
In der Campagna, Op. 41 No. 2
Frühlingsfeier, Op. 56 No. 5
Die heiligen drei Könige, Op. 56 No. 6
Gesänge des Orients, Op. 77
Allerseelen, Op. 10 No. 8
Christine Brewer (soprano)
Roger Vignoles (piano)
Rec 22-24 March 2004, All Saints Church, East Finchley, London
HYPERION CDA67488 [61.12]

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Strauss enjoyed a remarkably long creative life of more than sixty years, from the early 1880s to the late 1940s. He was also a fine conductor, particularly of opera. He created several masterpieces, including Salome and Der Rosenkavalier, which have become central to the repertoire of every major company. He was a prolific composer who wrote music in all the established forms; beyond the opera house his work has been most valued in the fields of the orchestral tone poem and the solo song with orchestra or piano.

This is the first volume in what is another ambitious Hyperion project to enhance the catalogue of song recordings. Strauss wrote lieder at every stage of his career and contributed one of the most significant and extensive bodies of work in the genre. This first volume features both a singer and an accompanist who are leaders in their field. Christine Brewer has already established a reputation in related repertoire: the Strauss and Wagner operas. She has, for example, been described as ‘the leading Isolde of our day’ (David Nice in BBC Music Magazine).

The chosen programme here is an engaging one, full of delights at every turn, but I do wonder whether the project might have followed the lead of the CPO Brahms complete lieder by keeping things strictly chronological. Although this may not make for the most artistically imaginative and musically enjoyable experience, at least the collector of the series might have a fighting chance of finding a particular song at a later date.

Brewer and Vignoles are an effective partnership, of course, and it is by no means a matter of the voice accompanied by the pianist. On the contrary, this is a partnership of equals, and on occasions the line and phrasing set by the piano part seems the dominating factor; in In der Campagna, Die heiligen drei Könige and Ich liebe dich, for instance. And these songs are not the worse for it.

The recital starts with that elevating song Zueignung, originally written for a heldentenor voice, but nowadays invariably sung by sopranos. Brewer is suitably heroic and grand, but she is heard to even better effect in the Songs of the Orient, and particularly Ihre augen, the first of this group of five. Given her Wagnerian credentials, it is no surprise that the bigger and bolder songs particularly suit her, right across the vocal range. The recorded sound, perhaps, is captured in a rather dry acoustic, although some listeners will be less concerned about this than others. On the other hand, the more intimate songs, such as that wonderful lullaby Wiegenlied, are treated with the utmost sensitivity.

This is a major release by major artists, and it is a worthy opening to a major series of recordings.

Terry Barfoot

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