Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Bürger als Edlemann Op. 60 - Orchestral Suite [35:16]; Four Last Songs [21:22]; Wiegenlied Op. 41/1 [3:50]; Zueignung Op. 10/1 [1:46]; Morgen! Op. 27/4 [4:23]
Lisa Larsson (soprano)
Musikkollegium Winterthur/Douglas Boyd
rec. Stadthaus, Winterthur, 5-9 September 2011
text and English translations included

In 1912 Strauss wrote a set of incidental music for a performance of Molière’s comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. The play had been translated and adapted by Hugo Hofmannsthal at the request of Max Reinhardt. The original ending of the play - a Turkish scene - was replaced by an opera about Ariadne’s stay on the island of Naxos. The whole was first performed in Stuttgart but was only a limited success, probably largely as a result of its length - the evening as a whole had lasted over six hours. The opera in the final section alone had been intended to be brief but extended to well over an hour. The rethink which followed resulted in the opera Ariadne auf Naxos, one of the composer’s most fascinating and successful works. It comprised a newly written first part and an extended version of the opera. This meant however that the incidental music Strauss had written for the play which had formed the first part of the evening was no longer needed. The result was the orchestral Suite performed on this disc (and which confusingly has the same Opus number as the opera), one of the composer’s most enjoyable works. It is in a markedly lighter and less tortured vein than the works for which he was best known at that time. This paved the way for the wonderful works of his latter years. It consists of nine movements, including an Overture, a Minuet based on Lully’s music for Molière’s original play, and an hilarious finale entitled “The Dinner” depicting its various courses.
There have been many recordings of the work, including superb performances conducted by Reiner, Krauss and Beecham, all great champions of the composer. Even when compared with them however the present performance is worth hearing for its very particular qualities. It has wit and charm, both essential here. Unsurprisingly it has the merit of superb and very well balanced modern recording quality. Above all it essentially has the sense of a chamber work. It is perhaps a paradox that whilst I am sure that Douglas Boyd worked very hard to produce this performance the result does not sound so much conducted as the result of the companionable coming together of a group of superlative chamber musicians. The scoring requires only some 34 musicians and includes a prominent part for piano. This tends to emphasise the links with the composer’s later masterpieces.
The Four Last Songs are also well known from previous recordings - even greater in number. Most listeners will come to a new version with a bias towards a particular previous version, or at least to a particular approach. These can vary from the almost instrumental purity of a singer such as Lisa della Casa to a very detailed essentially word-based approach. I suspect that Lisa Larsson would say that she was attempting something midway between these extremes. The result is certainly well considered and generally convincing if perhaps lacking in the last ounce of conviction. The real heroes of the performance are the orchestra which again plays with a chamber-like refinement, making apparent details that tend to get lost in more obviously impassioned versions. The same applies to the three short songs included to fill the disc.
The very considerable merits of this disc are enhanced by lengthy and interesting notes and the essential inclusion of the text and an English translation. Even if you already have a version or versions of the main works here this disc is worth having for the freshness and transparency of its approach.

John Sheppard 

Freshness and transparency of approach.