MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing



CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS
BIS Downloads available from

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (1898) [46:58]
Vier letzte Lieder (1946-1948) [21:19]
Dorothea Röschmann (soprano)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. June 2010, de Doelen Hall, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Song texts and English translations provided
BIS-SACD-1880 [69:13]

Experience Classicsonline

Strauss’s heroic life is well documented on disc, with Fritz Reiner (RCA Living Stereo), Neeme Järvi (Chandos), David Zinman (Arte Nova) and Sir Georg Solti (Decca) among the front runners. In such a crowded field this new version from Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Rotterdam Philharmonic needs to be very special if it’s not to be an also-ran. I have to say their recent Symphonie fantastiquereview – is desperately underwhelming, not helped by a perceived very low level recording (see footnote) and mannered phrasing. And yet, as I pointed out then, this conductor made amends with an exhilarating performance of the Berlioz in Berlin eighteen months later.

What makes this new disc especially tempting is the inclusion of Strauss’s Four Last Songs, sung by the German soprano Dorothea Röschmann. And if Heldenleben has its fair share of classic accounts then so does this: from Lisa della Casa and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf through to Gundula Janowitz, Soile Isokoski and Renée Fleming, these radiant songs seldom fail to work their magic, although I have to confess Schwarzkopf’s later account with George Szell remains sans pareil for me. And don’t forget Heather Harper, whose version with Richard Hickox proved to be a late, but lovely, bloomer (review).

But first, Heldenleben. This autobiographical piece certainly has its detractors, but in the right hands and with the right band it can sound as ravishing as anything Strauss ever wrote. I mention the orchestra because this music really benefits from a full, sumptuous sound – preferably with well-blended brass section – and a smoothness of line. I once saw Karajan castigated for his ‘clinging legato’, and I know exactly what the writer means; that said, a seamless quality is all-important here, as is a firm grasp of the work’s architecture. All the conductors I’ve listed here have those qualities, albeit to varying degrees; they also have top-notch ensembles at their fingertips.

The Rotterdam Phiharmonic is not a bad orchestra, but where’s the testosterone as our hero struts forth? And why is the recording level ridiculously low, robbing the music of all its bite and – later – its bile? Nézet-Séguin must shoulder some of the blame for this lacklustre introduction which, despite impressive climaxes, sounds curiously bland. I simply don’t sense he has the measure of this piece, and that’s not a good sign in a work as forthright and self-assured as this. Even the scribblings of the hero’s adversaries – ‘Der Helden Widersacher’ – aren’t as acid as they can be, but Nézet-Séguin does find a modicum of ardent lyricism here.

And that’s what I miss most, a sense of coherence, of one episode knitting seamlessly with the next. No sooner do we get a glimpse of genuine nobility than the music slides towards banality. True, that’s a hazard with this composer, but incisive playing and a keen ear for Strauss’s glorious sonorities does minimise the risk of such lapses; neither quality is in evidence here, so it’s little wonder the musical edifice sags so soon. As for the hero’s companion – ‘Des Helden Gefährtin’ – those tumescent tunes have seldom seemed so passionless, the brass so underpowered. And even though Igor Gruppman’s violin solo is nicely played the conductor’s tendency to surge and retreat – something I noticed on the Berlioz disc – is not only irritating it’s also dramatically counter-productive.

And despite some thrilling tuttis and a delectable harp the sonics of this hybrid SACD are no match for those in Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle, for example. The latter sets a benchmark for large-scale orchestral recordings, and I so wish BIS could recapture some of that here. And where better to do that than the martial bluster of the hero’s battle – ‘Des Helden Walstatt’ – where the snare and bass drums are superbly caught. But intermittent glories don’t begin to compensate for an otherwise sporadic performance. Here, and in so many instances, Järvi has a complementary sense of momentum and proportion that never fails to please; factor in vintage Chandos sound and his Heldenleben remains one of the most satisfying in the catalogue.

As for the hero’s works of peace – ‘Des Helden Friedenswerke’ – this section usually has a sweep, an amplitude, that carries all before it. I wish that were so this time around, but it’s all too inhibited – tentative, even. Despite some gorgeous sounds from the orchestra the exaggerated pauses and mannered phrasing are very distracting indeed. Just listen to those feeble timp strokes at the start of the hero’s retirement – ‘Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung’ – and the overparted brass and string figures that follow. Sadly, banality beckons just as Strauss introduces some of his most radiant writing. I will concede that the horn playing here is splendid and that the finale unfolds as it should, with a quiet, sustained grandeur.

Now that’s more like it, but what a shame it’s taken so long to reach this point. That said, ensemble isn’t always tidy and there’s still a hint of that stop-start approach that disfigures so much of this reading. At least we get the spectacular, efflorescent ending and not the quiet alternative we hear on Fabio Luisi’s disc from Sony. But even here Nézet-Séguin doesn’t calibrate the finale as well as his rivals –Järvi in particular – so when that peroration arrives it sounds a tad overblown. And that sums up this Heldenleben rather well; a might-have-been blighted by too many misjudgements to warrant an endorsement from me.

But what of the enticing filler? Now this is the ultima Thule of orchestral songs - a tough test for all concerned. One of the abiding joys of the Schwarzkopf/Szell version – even if one doesn’t always approve of Dame Elisabeth’s arch phrasing – is the synergy that exists between these performers. This recording catches greatness on the wing, Szell and his Berlin band capturing the fleeting glory of Strauss’s valedictory piece in a way I’ve never heard equalled, let alone bettered. The Rotterdam sound is certainly full and creamy at the start of ‘Fruhling’, Röschmann sounding light but suitably expansive. That said, it’s not a particularly seamless voice and it does have a rapid beat at times, but it’s certainly expressive.

A promising start, even though the voice does harden a little under pressure. I’m not sure Röschmann captures the evanescent quality of ‘September’ in quite the way that Schwarzkopf and Harper do, but it’s a lovely performance nonetheless. Even Nézet-Séguin and his band sound wonderfully rapt here. The start of ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ is glowingly done. The heart-stopping beauty of this loveliest of songs is magnificently caught, a rare triumph amongst the debris of disappointment; it’s also proof that this team can make magic when required.

It does get better. The orchestral introduction to ‘Im Abendrot’ is as refulgent as one could wish for. Röschmann is in command here, capturing that all-pervasive blend of resignation and contentment. As for the orchestra, they play with utter conviction, the rise and fall of this music – its ebbing breath – most eloquently realised. Indeed, it’s all naturally paced and contoured, the farewell being as poignant as ever. Nézet-Séguin seems much more attuned to autumnal Strauss. The long, death-embracing postlude is most movingly done.

It’s not often one comes across a recording of such contrasts; it’s all very perplexing, but as my response to this conductor’s Berlin debut confirms he’s clearly capable of great things. I so wanted to give him a hero’s welcome here, but this Heldenleben is not competitive. The songs are more successful, but even here one can’t avoid a sense of what-might-have-been. As for the sonics, BIS seem to have lost the lead they established with their earlier SACDs; I do hope they return to form some time soon.

Dan Morgan

A note from Robert von Bahr

One ground rule is never, but never to get into a debate with a critic - they invariably get the last word, mayhaps a very acerbic one at that.

But I have to throw caution to the winds here, when I read your review of BIS-SACD-1880 Ein Heldenleben with the Rotterdam Phil under Yannick N-S, and I am going to take you to task.

I have no objection whatsoever to your opinions about the music-making or your several comparisons - they are, respectively, yours to make, and I can just say de gustibus non discutandum...

But when you start to write about technical details you write erroneously

Specifically, your comments on on low-level recordings. Quotes:
...not helped by a very low level recording...
...And why is the recording level ridiculously low, robbing the music of all its bite and – later – its bile?...
...As for the sonics, BIS seem to have lost the lead they established with their earlier SACDs; I do hope they return to form some time soon....

Well, the answer is the following: The recording level is NOT ridiculously low, or, actually, low at all. However, you do make the same mistake that most of the general public do, but which you shouldn't, and that is that you compare an honest, original-dynamic recording with all the compressed, manipulated and faked recordings out there.

If you cared to measure the peaks of this recording, you'd find that they go up to the maximum allowed. Indeed you write yourself ...And despite some thrilling tuttis... (how can they be thrilling, if they are desperately "under-recorded"??). The peaks of basically all other recordings also reach that same maximum. However, the extended dynamic range (that's a technical term, meaning the decibel difference between the loudest and softest passages of a given recording) that is part of the 24-bit recording and SACD reproduction systems makes it possible to encapsulate what the composer wrote and the artists performed, without any alterations, level-wise. (Possibility, though, doesn't make for actual actions, as most other companies have shown through their fake and manipulated recordings.) Simply put: we define the loudest crash of the whole SACD, put that at 0 dB, and let the rest be in peace, i.e. what is being performed.

The obvious advantage is that you get a recording with the absolutely correct dynamic range and audio level, as performed by the Artists.
The equally obvious disadvantage is that the average level will be lower than on recordings which have been compromised, either electronically or by hand, meaning that their dynamic range has been diminished, i.e. compressed, which all is another way of saying that our recording has a vastly superior dynamic range, to be literal, precisely as vastly superior as you perceive the level to be ridiculously low!!

Yes, I do concede that our system of recording gives the equipment of the listener a tougher workout. You have to crank the amplifier up and have good speakers in order to enjoy the recording to its fullest capacity. It is for those discerning people that we make our recordings. I do concede that this makes it all but impossible to listen to the recording in a car, in a noisy ambience or in the shower, or wherever you may choose to listen to it outside of a good listening room.
Having said that, I also have to state that I find the value of true honesty, honesty to the composer's score, honesty to the Artists and honesty to their playing, to FAR outweigh the disadvantages mentioned above.
Conversely I find the compression of recordings, so rampant in this day and age, presumably to fit mp3 media, to downsize the music to fit boom-boxes or computer soft-speakers, to enable listening in any ambience, thus depriving the music of any likeness to what was actually performed, to be scandalous, and I am flabbergasted that a critic, as well-known as you, firmly deprives himself of any technical credibility by yielding to that misconception and the writing of the quotes above.

Our recording accurately shows the dynamic range, on a medium that so allows, that the Artists intended and actually performed. You may disagree with what they did, how they played, the colour of the conductor's hair, or whatever, but you can not write as you did and get away with it. Now let's see, if you, or your Editor, have the integrity of an English gentleman and own up to your mistakes.

Thank you for reading - Robert von Bahr, CEO, BIS Records






Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.