Samples & Downloads
Ständchen, op.17 no.2 (1887) [2:32]
Leises Lied, op.39 no.1 (1898) [2:59]
Wiegenliedchen, op.49 no.3 (1901) [2:23]
Rote Rosen (1880) [2:09]
Die Erwachte Rose (1883) [3:00]
Malven, AV304 (1948) [2:57]
Mädchenblumen, op.22 (1888) [8:46]
Fünf Lieder, op.48 (1900) [11:14]
Schlagende Herzen, op.29 no.2 (1895) [1:34]
Muttertänderlei, op.43 no.2 (1899) [2:36]
Das Bächlein, op.88 no.1 [1:20]
Amor, op.68 no.5 (1918) [3:34]
Kleine Lieder, op.69 nos.1-3 (1918) [7:32]
Drei Lieder der Ophelia, op.67 nos.1-3 (1918) [7:30]
Gillian Keith (soprano)
Simon Lepper (piano)
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, Sussex, England, 29-30 April, 1 May
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD 018 [60:06]
According to the accompanying booklet notes, Richard Strauss
once said: "I thank my Almighty Creator for the gift and inspiration
of the female voice." Music lovers since have had Strauss himself
to thank as creator of countless gifts of inspiration written
for the female voice: not only incredible operatic roles like
Salome and Elektra, but lieder like Cäcilie, Morgen!
and the so-called Four Last Songs. This recital by Canadian
soprano Gillian Keith features Strauss's real last song,
Malven, and an entertaining selection of others, well
known and relatively neglected. The CD title 'Bei Strauss' is
presumably a playful reference to Gershwin's song 'By Strauss':
music-theatre being what it is, Gershwin was decidedly not
alluding to Richard.
Strauss's numerous songs date predominantly from his earlier
years; after the Great War he focused primarily on opera and
orchestra. Thus the music here belongs to the great Germanic
Lieder tradition established by Schubert, Schumann and
Brahms and sits stylistically between those and Wolf and Mahler:
late-Romantically tuneful and passionate, with later ones expressively
intensified by chromaticism and harmonic ambiguity.
A whole hour performing Strauss is no easy task for any singer,
but Keith emerges with considerable credit. From the beginning
the quality of her clear, light, lyrical voice is apparent,
and she controls it marvellously, literally breathing life into
phrases with thoughtful air control. Her voice is probably best
suited to the Baroque repertoire of which most of her discography
consists. She does not sound quite demented enough in the Ophelia
settings - the only really dark corners of this recital - but
generally she brings plenty of apt emotion to Strauss's settings,
tastefully understated and always resolutely supported by Simon
Lepper's near-immaculate piano.
Keith does have a slight accent at times, but avoids most of
the linguistic potholes that toss and jolt the great majority
of non-native singers: vowel length, distinguishing between
final -'er' -'e', lip-rounding, vowel frontness and so on. Her
diction is usually excellent, with just an occasional vocal
mis-colourisation or indistinct initial or medial consonant.
To all intents and purposes, however, she is thoroughly convincing
and communicates the emotional content of the poet's text -
as mincing as it sometimes is - and Strauss's ravishing music
to great effect.
CDs devoted entirely to Strauss's songs are relatively infrequent
- sopranos in particular have tended to prefer the operatic
arias, presumably to make a bigger artistic and commercial impact,
or, like Keith's fellow Canadian Lynne Fortin last year, to
include some Strauss in a pick 'n' mix recital (see review).
Keith's German is certainly better than acclaimed Strauss interpreter
Jessye Norman's (Philips 000450502), and her accounts more nuanced.
Norman's voice, in turn, is undoubtedly better suited to the
power and stamina required of Strauss's operatic and orchestral
songs. On the other hand, Keith does not have the native-language
advantage or indeed quite the emotional range of Diana Damrau,
yet Damrau's recital last year on Virgin Classics (6286640)
has orchestral accompaniment and a sufficiently divergent programme
to make both CDs significant additions to the Strauss lieder
discography. Keith's voice is quite similar to American Kiera
Duffy, soprano on the most recent volume 5 of Hyperion's excellent
multi-singer 'Strauss: The Complete Songs' series (CDA 67746).
The Hyperion helpfully features Mädchenblumen for
direct comparison, though Duffy's enunciation is unfailingly
At any rate, on a song-by-song basis Keith has substantial competition.
Yet in at least one or two instances she has exactly what it
takes, with Lepper's help, to make her interpretation as good
as it gets. The perennial favourite Ständchen, for
example, or 'Freundliches [sic] Vision' and 'Winterweihe'
from op.48. Nowhere, though, is she anything like disappointing.
The recording is rather on the quiet side, but sound and general
technical quality is very good. The booklet contains excellent
notes on the individual songs by the ever-dependable Malcolm
MacDonald, biographies and full song texts in German and English.
The track-list is slightly misleading, giving the impression
that Strauss's op.69 consists only of the three songs Keith
sings, rather than five, and that his op.67 is entitled Three
Songs of Ophelia, whereas they comprise only the first half
of a six-song cycle.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk