Anne Schwanewilms is one of the leading Strauss sopranos of
our times. Here she offers some plums from the composer’s
huge output for the soprano voice.
The trio from the last act of Der Rosenkavalier is one
of the most sumptuous passages in all Strauss. It’s very
well sung here - and, not for the first time on the disc, the
Gürzenich-Orchester is inspired by Markus Stenz to some
gorgeous playing. My only complaint is that the extract is tantalisingly
short. Given the short playing time of the disc could not the
remainder of the closing scene have been included, even if Miss
Schwanewilms would not have been involved?
There’s ample compensation, however, in the form of the
closing scene from Capriccio. There’s some wonderful
singing here, especially during the rapturous music to which
Strauss sets Olivier’s sonnet when the Countess reads
it. Miss Schwanewilms is particularly passionate in tone at
‘Du wirst geliebt und kannst dich nicht’. Then,
as the scene draws to a close she’s rapt at ‘Du
Spiegelbild der verliebten Madeleine’, spinning a delectable
vocal line. From this point until the end of the track the orchestral
playing is notably distinguished.
She’s also excellent as Arabella. At the start of the
solo her singing is touching and with a hint of vulnerability
to it. Later, from ‘Dann aber, wie ich Sie gespürt’,
she becomes more impassioned, as the music and the sentiments
of the text demand.
I had high hopes for Vier letzte Lieder. I adore these
songs and there is already an indecently large number of versions
on my shelves. Sadly, I don’t think this recording will
be joining the list of The Elect. The main trouble is the enunciation
of the words. Because I know the songs well I didn’t follow
the texts the first couple of times that I listened and I found
that often I had considerable difficulty in making out the words
that were being sung, particularly in the first two songs. Furthermore,
in ‘Frühling’ especially I felt there was an
edge to the voice in alt which robbed the song of the
sensuality of tone that it needs. ‘September’ fared
better in this respect. It’s a more relaxed song and perhaps
Miss Schwanewilms’ voice was under less pressure as a
result. I loved the languorous delivery of the last two lines,
followed by a warm postlude from the orchestra, the solo horn
sounding nicely burnished in tone.
‘Beim Schlafengehen’ is my favourite among these
songs. I liked the extra little kick of urgency in the second
stanza and after the lovely violin solo we hear a properly rapturous
rendition of the glorious phrase ‘Und die Seele unbewacht’.
I wondered if the last phrases of the song were sung in slightly
too forthright a way but overall I enjoyed this performance.
Stenz is not one of those conductors who begin ‘Im Abendrot’
with some urgency before easing back prior to the soloist’s
entry; he maintains a steady pulse. Once again we hear the singer
produce some lovely sounds but I had little idea what she was
singing about. By the way, this issue seemed less pronounced
in the operatic extracts, which I followed in the booklet from
the start. The extended orchestral postlude offers another fine
example of the excellent contribution of Stenz and the Cologne
In many respects this is a good account of the Vier letzte
Lieder. However, I don’t think it challenges the best
I’ve heard which include Lisa della Casa, Soile Isokoski,
Lucia Popp and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. I know the latter is not
to everyone’s taste; some regard her as too knowing. On
the other hand, listen to any of her recordings and to how she
makes every word count and then you realise what’s missing
in this Anne Schwanewilms reading.
Masterwork Index: Vier