Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Vier letzte Lieder (1. Frühling [3:11]; 2. September [4:38]; 3. Beim Schlafengehen [5:27]; 4. Im Abendrot [7:27]) [21:05]
5. Morgen, Op. 27 No. 4 [4:02]
6. Zueignung Op. 10 No. 1 (orch. Robert Heger) [1:38]
Der Rosenkavalier Op. 59 (7. Da geht er hin (The Marschallin’s monologue, Act 1) [5:21]; 8. Marie Theres’ … Hab’ mir’s gelobt (Trio, Act III) [4:21]; 9. Ist ein Traum/Spür’ nur dich (Duet, Act III) [7:24]) [17:05]
Yvonne Kenny (soprano)
Lorina Gore (soprano) (8-9), Kirsti Harms (mezzo) (8-9), David Hibbard (baritone) (9)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra/Johannes Fritsch
rec. 23-27 June 2008, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ferry Rd Music Studios, West End, Brisbane, Australia
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
ABC CLASSICS 476 3954 [44:36]

Many millions of people interested in sports have heard Yvonne Kenny – without probably knowing her name – since she sang the Olympic Hymn at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Sydney in 2000. Even by then she had behind her a career of some twenty-five years, but her voice was remarkably unaffected by the years. It has remained in good heart during the following decade, where she starred in a lovely recording of Die Csardasfürstin for Naxos. Even later, just a month before the present recording was made, ABC set down a disc with mainly Viennese operetta arias. I had that disc for review and was greatly impressed, though I remarked that she lacked that inimitable Viennese lilt. Her voice on that occasion had lost a little of its silvery brilliance. This is even more obvious here, where I can’t help noting an annoying vibrato in much of what she sings. The nobility of tone and the inflection of words still makes this a worthwhile issue but with predecessors like Schwarzkopf (also mono version from 1953), Della Casa, Isokoski (Ondine ODE 982-2) and Stemme available, all of them in freshest voice and in even more deeply-probing readings this issue is not really competitive.

The Four Last Songs are performed with warmth and inwardness and the autumnal feeling is in a way reinforced by the fragility of which the vibrato is an indicator. That was the case also with Elisabeth Söderström’s recording of the cycle, made when she was about the same age as Ms Kenny is here.

She is more at ease in the two separate songs, where Morgen comes as a companion to the cycle with much the same atmosphere, even though it was written more than half a century earlier. The even earlier Zueignung makes for a refreshing contrast, being powerfully sung.

In the liner-notes Yvonne Kenny states that her greatest influence when singing the Four Last Songs has been Lisa Della Casa and her epoch-making recording from 1953. That was also my first – and for many years only - recording and there can be few better influences. The original interpreter of the songs was Kirsten Flagstad and singers like Jessye Norman (Leipzig Guwandhaus Orchestra, Kurt Masur (Philips)) and Nina Stemme have shown that a dramatic voice can be wonderfully compelling. Della Casa was, like Kenny, a noted Mozart soprano and by and large it is singers of that category that have been most frequently heard in the songs.

Ms Kenny doesn’t mention a particular influence for her Feldmarschallin but like many other sopranos she began as Sophie and then, when her voice matured, opera houses around the world wanted her as the Princess von Werdenberg, a.k.a. Marie Thérèse. ‘The Marschallin is perhaps my favourite role of all’, she reveals in her notes. Here I feel that it is Schwarzkopf more than Della Casa that has been her model, but she is in no way a mere copy. Quite the contrary her reading is individual and engrossing, though also here one must regret that it wasn’t recorded a few years earlier. In fact she recorded substantial chunks from Rosenkavalier ten years earlier on a well-filled highlights disc in Chandos’ ‘Opera in English’ series and it is that disc, rather than the present one, that I would commend to readers. Her Sophie and Octavian (Rosemary Joshua and Diana Montague) are also better than their counterparts here, where Lorina Gore has an even more pronounced vibrato than Yvonne Kenny. The purity of the trio and duet is upset in the consorted passages.

The playing of the Queensland Symphony Orch estra can’t be faulted and the violin solo in Beim Schlafengehen is beautifully played. The recording is honest and finely catches the sublime orchestral colours without being spectacular. The autumnal feeling in the songs is also preserved here.

Intending purchasers should observe that the playing time is uncommonly parsimonious: less than 45 minutes!

Not an unqualified success then, but Yvonne Kenny’s many admirers will find a lot to savour.

Göran Forsling

Not an unqualified success then, but Yvonne Kenny’s many admirers will find a lot to savour.