Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Vier letzte Lieder [23:00]
Das was sehr gut, Mandryka (Arabella) [7:48]
Morgen mittag um elf (Capriccio) [16:54]
Marie Theres’! - Hab mir’s gelobt (Der Rosenkavalier)* [4:42]
Anne Schwanewilms (soprano); *Jutta Böhnert (soprano) - Sophie/Regina Richter (mezzo) - Octavian
Gürzenich-Orchester-Köln/Markus Stenz
rec. 2-4 February, 2011, Stolberger Str. 3 Köln
German texts and English translations included
ORFEO C858121A [52:49]
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 orchestra.
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.
John Quinn
Some lovely Strauss singing but the account of Vier letzte Lieder fails to challenge the best. 

Masterwork Index: Vier letzte Lieder