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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
see end of review for track listing
Inger Dam-Jensen (soprano); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 20-22 August 2007, St. Silas the Martyr, St. Silas Place, Kentish Town, London
English translations of the sung texts enclosed
ALTARA ALT1033 [69:50]
Experience Classicsonline

Danish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen had her musical education at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and the Danish Opera Academy. A busy international career came her way after she won the prestigious ‘Singer of the World’ competition in Cardiff in 1993. She has sung with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Bernard Haitink, the Philharmonia Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnányi, the Orchestra of the Bastille under James Conlon, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart and with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard to mention a few world class ensembles. She appeared at the Opéra de Paris, Covent Garden, Geneva and has a long list of roles with the Royal Danish Opera. Despite having recorded quite extensively this is, as far as I have been able to find out, her first solo disc. A year and a half ago I reviewed a disc in the Naxos series of Grieg’s orchestral music, where she was soloist in most of his orchestral songs (see review). I found her eminently well suited to those songs, where she exhibited lyrical beauty as well as dramatic power in En svane.

With the masterly Malcolm Martineau at the piano she gives us almost seventy minutes of excellent Strauss songs, not all of them the most frequently performed. Most of Strauss’s songs were written during the last two decades of the 19th century - after that he concentrated on opera. In 1918 however, he discovered the voice of Elisabeth Schumann and wrote a number of songs with her in mind, including the remarkable six Brentano songs Op. 68. Inger Dam-Jensen includes four of these as well as two of the five Op. 69 songs and the three Ophelia songs Op. 67 with texts by Karl Simrock and naturally based on Shakespeare. The other three songs in that group were Goethe settings. Op. 66 by the way is the song-cycle Krämerspiegel, also from 1918. Apart from a couple of songs in the intervening years he was not to return to the genre until the very end of his life and Vier letzte Lieder. We should not however forget the little song Malven, that was found among the soprano Maria Jeritza’s papers upon her death in 1982 and which was belatedly premiered by Kiri Te Kanawa in 1985.

Compared to the earlier songs the 1918 efforts are harsher, more dissonant and not so immediately accessible. They are in many ways however more expressive and exploratory and might very well be regarded as the apex of Strauss’s modernism as a song-writer. The Ophelia songs are certainly mad songs with their angularity, changes of tempo and seemingly haphazard structure. The Brentano songs are not very frequently heard either and when they are performed it is often in the much later (1940) orchestral versions. I reviewed Ricarda Merbeth’s recording a while ago (see review). The piano versions are kinder to the singer - I could never imagine Elisabeth Schumann singing them with orchestra - and Inger Dam-Jensen, who anyway has a larger voice with more heft - manages them with beautiful assured singing. Amor, in particular, is lovely. I am not quite so convinced by her reading of the Ophelia trio - she doesn’t seem to be the ‘mad’ type, sounding as healthily normal and cute as the cover photo. Good to have the songs anyway.

She is better suited to many of the earlier songs where she depicts the restrained nervousness of Ständchen, the soft and inward, almost hesitant Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden, the beautiful legato in Liebeshymnus, the lovely pianissimo in Meinem Kinde, the lively and naughty Muttertändelei and the endearing but rather monochrome Wiegenlied. And maybe this is the weakness that in the end makes me feel that I have been on a pleasant journey through roughly one eighth of Strauss’s Lieder landscape in the company of two most charming and eloquent guides. I just didn’t get to know all those secrets that I had hoped would be revealed.

Even so a pleasant journey with no rough ends is always something to be grateful for and I was taken to some remote corners that I have only rarely visited before. The acoustic environment cannot be faulted and it is only a pity that the ‘guidebook’ doesn’t include the original poems, just English translations. Incidentally the booklet says ‘transliterations’ but ‘transliterate’ implies ‘to represent or spell (a letter or word) in the characters of another alphabet’ (The New Penguin English Dictionary): one transliterates a Russian text from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. Let me just add that the original texts are available at the Altara website.

Göran Forsling

Track listing
1. Ich schwebe, Op. 48 No. 2 [2:02]
2. Ständchen, Op. 17 No. 2 [2:37]
3. Ach, Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden! Op. 21 No. 3 [1:54]
4. Einerlei, Op. 69 No. 3 [2:36]
5. Der Stern, Op. 69 No. 1 [1:52]
6. Liebeshymnus, Op. 32 No. 3 [2:10]
7. Freundliche Vision, Op. 48 No. 1 [2:40]
8. Allerseelen, Op. 10 No. 8 [3:13]
9. Zueignung, Op. 10 No. 1 [1:48]
10. Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden, Op. 68 No. 2 [3:09]
11. Säusle, liebe Myrth, Op. 68 No. 3 [4:51]
12. Als mir dein Lied erklang, Op. 68 No. 4 [4:02]
13. Amor, Op. 68 No. 5 [3:08]
14. Meinem Kinde, Op. 37 No. 3 [2:53]
15. Muttertändelei, Op. 43 No. 2 [2:24]
16. Wiegenlied, Op. 41 No. 1 [4:33]
17. Hat gesagt bleibt’s nicht dabei, Op. 36 No. 3 [2:02]
18. Glückes genug, Op. 37 No. 1 [2:34]
19. Mein Auge, Op. 37 No. 4 [3:00]
20. Traum durch die Dämmerung, Op. 29 No. 1 [3:11]
21. Schlagende Herzen, Op. 29 No. 2 [2:34]
22. Nachtgang, Op. 29 No. 3 [3:04]
Drei Lieder der Ophelia, Op. 67:
23. I. Wie erkenn ich mein Treulieb vor andern nun? [2:28]
24. II. Guten Morgen, 's ist Sankt Valentinstag [1:12]
25. III. Sie trugen ihn auf der Bahre bloss [3:38]


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