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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
The Complete Songs – Vol. 2
Die Nacht Op.10 No.3 (1885) [3:08]
Geduld Op.10 No.5 (1885) [4:36]
Mein Herz ist stumm Op.19 No.6 (1888) [3:13]
All: mein Gedanken Op.21 No.1 (1889) [1:08]
Du meines Herzens Krönelein Op.21 No.2 (1889) [2:21]
Ach Lieb, ich muß nun scheiden Op.21 No.3 (1889) [1:53]
O wärst du mein! Op.26 No.2 (1891) [2:47]
Ruhe, meine Seele! Op.27 No.1 (1894) [3:37]
Traum durch die Dämmerung Op.29 No.1 (1895) [2:46]
Schlagende Herzen Op.29 No.2 (1895) [2:35]
Nachtgang Op.29 No.3 (1895) [3:02]
Blauer Sommer Op.31 No.1 (1895) [2:16]
Weißer Jasmin Op.31 No.3 (1895) [2:29]
Das Rosenband Op.36 No.1 (1897-8) [3:06]
Waldseligkeit Op.49 No.1 (1901) [3:02]
In goldener Fülle Op.49 No.2 (1901) [2:25]
Wiegenliedchen Op.49 No.3 (1901) [2:05]
Wer lieben will, muß leiden Op.49 No.7 (1901) [2:36]
Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen Op.49 No.8  (1901) [2:21]
Blindenklage Op.56 No.2 (1906) [5:01]
Drei Lieder der Ophelia Op.67 (1918) [8:06]
1.Wie erkenn’ ich mein Treulieb?   [2:46]
2.Guten Morgen, ’s ist Sankt Valentinstag   [1:26]
3.Sie trugen ihn auf der Bahre bloß   [3:43]
Anne Schwanewilms (soprano); Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, 22-24 August 2006. DDD
HYPERION CDA67588 [66:27]

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 Hallé 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.

I’m 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 Wiegenliedchen.

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 conclusion.

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.

John Quinn



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