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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
The Complete Songs – Volume 4

Fünf lieder Op 15 (1886) [11:25]
Stiller Gang Op 31 No 4** (1895) [1:35]
Der Arbeitsmann Op. 39 No 3 (1898) [3:41]
Lied an meinen Sohn Op 39 No 5 (1898) [4:13]
Am Ufer Op 41 No 3 (1899) [2:35]
Leise Lieder… Op 41 No 5 (1899) [2:12]
Des Dichters Abendgang Op 47 No 2 (1900) [4:42]
Das Lied des Steinklopfers Op 49 No 4 (1901) [3:00]
Gefunden Op 56 No 1 (1903) [2:21]
Mit deinen blauen Augen Op 56 No 4 (1906) [1:27]
Im Spätboot Op 56 No 3* (1906) [4:14]
Vom künftigen Alter Op 87 No 1* (1929) [5:20]
Erschaffen und Beleben Op 87 No 2* (1922) [2:26]
Und dann nicht mehr Op 87 No 3* (1929) [6:01]
Im Sonnenschein Op 87 No 4* (1935) [4:38]
Christopher Maltman (baritone); *Alistair Miles (bass); **James Boyd (viola); Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London, 10-11 January 2008 and *14-16 January 2008. DDD
German texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67667 [60:57]
Experience Classicsonline

We’ve had to wait until Volume 4 of Hyperion’s Strauss series to hear a male voice but the wait has been worthwhile. In this latest addition to the series the singing of both Christopher Maltman and Alistair Miles gives much pleasure.
 
Maltman has the lion’s share of the programme. He offers some fine songs but Strauss is a composer who one has to take warts and all, and there are some songs in this programme that show Strauss as less than fully inspired. One such is ‘Leise Lieder’, of which even Roger Vignoles comments “as a performer one has to work quite hard to avoid the impression of over-gilding a somewhat unconvincing lily.” I have reservations also about ‘Lied an meinen Sohn’. This is a setting of a poem by Richard Dehmel, in which a father gives advice to his infant son not to repeat mistakes in life that he himself has made. Strauss provides turbulent music which one feels would frighten a youngster out of his wits. The song is a big, wide ranging piece which, to be frank, steers preciously close to the bombastic. Vignoles is surely right to describe it as “an exercise in musical hyperbole.”
 
After that one is doubly grateful for a respite in the form of ‘Am Ufer’, a rapt song, which is given here with great poise. The vocal line tests Christopher Maltman’s voice at both ends of its compass but he’s entirely successful, not least in treating us to some gorgeously floated soft high notes, notably on the word “Sternchen” (at 1:53) and on the very last word of all, “Licht”.
 
His opening group, Op. 15, gives us what proves to be an excellent foretaste of what’s to follow. All these songs are settings of Adolf von Schack (1815-1894), with the exception of the first, which is the sole setting by Strauss of a text by Michelangelo. In that song, ‘Madrigal’, Maltman displays generous tone and fine control. He evidences a fine sense of line in the third song, ‘Lob des Leidens’, and is particularly compelling in his performance of the impassioned fourth song, ‘Aus den Liedern der Trauer’. I mentioned his sense of line a moment ago and this, plus a wonderfully round, firm tone and excellent diction are hallmarks of his whole contribution to the disc.
 
The last five songs call for a bass voice in the shape of Alistair Miles. On a couple of occasions in the past, in reviewing his contributions to performances of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius I’ve been somewhat unimpressed, finding his singing somewhat overblown. I’m delighted to say that here, in the more intimate world of lieder, there’s absolutely no trace of that and I enjoyed his singing very much. He’s ideally suited to ‘Im Spätboot’, which has what Roger Vignoles aptly describes as “a dark, weary resonance.” And he has the range to cope with the very end of the song, which finishes on a cavernous bottom D flat.
 
Besides this Miles offers the four songs that constitute op. 87. Though these songs were composed between 1922 and 1935 it was not until 1945 that Strauss gathered them together, in the process re-dedicating ‘Erschaffen und Beleben’ to Hans Hotter. That song is a setting of Goethe while the other three songs have texts by Rückert. Vignoles suggests the group form a “four-movement song sonata” of which that second song is the scherzo. I think that’s an excellent description. The first song, ‘Vom künftigen Alter’ is very fine. The mood is dignified but there’s a good deal of power in the music too. The title translates as “Of approaching old age” and Strauss’s music – and Miles’s performance of it – indicates that this elderly man is far from a spent force. ‘Und dann nicht mehr’ is another notable song – Vignoles very plausibly suggests links with Mandryka’s music in Arabella – which one can imagine Hotter singing. The last of the set, ‘Im Sonnenschein’, is, for the most part, an urgent, positive song but the closing section is more thoughtful and lyrical. Alistair Miles’s performance of the whole set strikes me as a conspicuous success.
 
Throughout the recital Roger Vignoles pianism is superb. The piano parts frequently sound fiendishly difficult yet Vignoles surmounts all the challenges and one feels he is “with” his singers at all times. To add to our pleasure he provides, once again, succinct and perceptive notes on all the songs.
 
After three volumes in this series that have all been lustrously performed by female singers it’s good to find Messrs. Maltman and Miles redressing the balance, as it were, with some splendid accounts of Strauss songs for the male voice. This latest instalment in Hyperion’s series is every bit as welcome and enjoyable as were its predecessors and further volumes are eagerly awaited.
 
John Quinn
 
Reviews of other issues in this series
Volume 1 - CDA67488
Volume 2 - CDA67588
Volume 3 - CDA67602

 


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