Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Poesie - Orchestral Songs

Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden Op.68 No.2 (1918) [3.04]
Waldseligkeit Op.49 No.1 (1901) [3.02]
Das Bächlein Op.88 No.1 (1933) [1.45]
Winterweihe Op.48 No.4 (1900-1901) [2.50]
Morgen Op.27 No.4 (1894) [3.50]
Allerseelen Op.10 No.8 (1885) [2.59]
Cäcilie Op.27 No.2 (1894) [2.29]
Amor Op.68 No.5 (1918) [3.31]
Säusle, liebe Myrte Op.68 No.3 (1918) [4.55]
Freundliche Vision Op.48 No.1 (1900-1901) [2.32]
Ständchen Op.17 No.2 (1885) [2.20]
Traum durch die Dämmerung Op.29 No.1 (1895) [2.38]
Wiegenlied Op.41 No.1 (1899) [4.16]
Meinem Kinde Op.37 No.3 (1897) [2.37]
Muttertändelei Op.43 No.2 (1899) [2.15]
Zueignung Op.10 No.1 (1885) [1.48]
Das Rosenband Op.36 No.1 (1898) [2.26]
Heimkehr Op.15 No.5 (1886) [2.02]
Als mir Dein Lied erklang Op.68 No.4 (1918) [3.46]
Des Dichters Abendgang Op.47 (1900-1901) No.2 [5.11]
An die Nacht Op.68 No.1 (1918) [3.24]
Lied der Frauen Op.68 No.6 (1918) [7.15]
Diana Damrau (soprano)
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
rec. Gasteig, Munich, Germany 10-15 March 2009
VIRGIN CLASSICS 50999 628664 0 8 [71.09]
Rather like bookends, the genre of the song produced the first composition that the six and a half year-old Richard Strauss wrote: a Christmas song or Weihnachtslied to words by his mother, in 1870. It also produced the last, the famous Four Last Songs, written when he was eighty-four in 1948, just a year before he died. Within that lifespan he wrote over two hundred songs, mainly inspired by his soprano wife Pauline de Ahna, who ironically gave up her career when she married Strauss. The Strauss song and the soprano voice were literally and inseparably wedded. Though the composition of songs took second place to his creative spurts of opera composition and also the orchestral symphonic poem, they were useful devices for the workaholic Strauss. They became useful presents for family and friends, for singers or for celebrated dignitaries in need of flattery in the form of a dedication with the composer’s eye ever upon the income column of his bank account. Whatever the reason for their various creations, we have cause to be thankful. The orchestrations were mainly made in the last ten years of the composer’s life, mostly by himself but some were entrusted to his acolytes such as Robert Heger or Felix Mottl.
The lyric coloratura soprano Diana Damrau and the Strauss Lied fit together as a hand in a glove. Her operatic repertoire in itself is a give-away, with many of the Strauss roles (Zerbinetta, Fiakermilli, Sophie, Aminta, Zdenka) together with operas by Mozart, Beethoven and Weber dominating over Italian works. Together with the fine Strauss conductor Christian Thielemann and the excellent Munich Philharmonic, the orchestra based in Strauss’s home city, she has put together 22 songs, in haphazard order, with all six of the Op.68 Brentano songs among them. It is easy to overdose on Strauss, with his dreamy sounds and marsh-mallow textures. These songs generally do not have the robust energy of the story-inspired Ein Heldenleben or Till Eulenspiegel. It’s hard to find a scherzo among them, instead there is introspection, a soul-searching which sometimes produces agonising results. Amor is the nearest we get to Zerbinetta, while plenty of others approach the Marschallin. It is only - in this collection at least - the Lied der Frauen, by far the longest at seven minutes, which comes near to the Strauss of Salome or Elektra, with strident discords and dramatic agonising. Damrau is a wonderful singer, she has line in the voice, colour like a kaleidoscope, and wears her emotional heart on her vocal sleeve. Apart from some occasional loss of sound below the stave - and Strauss sets a very wide tessitura in these songs - it’s a glorious sound from a singer who, approaching 40, is vocally mature and at her peak. Like a chrysalis, she should emerge from Sophie to become a fine Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, or from Susanna to Countess in Figaro. The best song on this disc, and which produces the best singing is ‘Als mir Dein Lied erklang’, which appropriately enough means ‘When your song rang out, I heard it’.

Christopher Fifield

Damrau is a wonderful singer, she has line in the voice, colour like a kaleidoscope, and wears her emotional heart on her vocal sleeve.