Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Waldseligkeit, op.49 no.1 (1900-01) [2:48]
Die Nacht, op.10 no.3 (1885) [2:59]
Ständchen, op.17 no.2 (1886) [2:31]
Leises Lied, op.39 no.1 (1898) [2:27]
Schlechtes Wetter, op.69 no.5 (1918) [2:30]
Des Dichters Abendgang, op.47 no.2 (1900) [5:20]
Der Stern, op.69 no.1 (1918) [1:53]
Die Verschwiegenen, op.10 no.6 (1885) [1:20]
Die Zeitlose, op.10 no.7 (1885) [1:42]
Blauer Sommer, op.31 no.1 (1895-96) [2:22]
Ich Wollt ein Sträußlein Binden op.68 no.2 (1918) [2:58]
Ruhe, Meine Seele!, op.27 no.1 (1894) [3:43]
Allerseelen, op.10 no.8 (1885) [3:32]
Einerlei, op.69 no.3 (1918) [2:48]
Meinem Kinde, op.37 no.3 (1897) [2:27]
Wiegenlied, op.41 no.1 (1899) [4:34]
Muttertändelei, op.43 no.2 (1899) [2:20]
Zueignung, op.10 no.1 (1885) [1:55]
Winterweihe, op.48 no.4 (1900) [2:52]
Das Rosenband, op.36 no.1 (1897) [3:21]
Cäcilie, op.27 no.2 (1894) [2:05]
Ach! was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen, op.49 no.8 (1901) [2:05]
Drei Lieder der Ophelia, op.67 nos.1-3 (1918) [7:46]
Morgen!, op.27 no.2 (1894) [4:05]
Felicity Lott (soprano)
Graham Johnson (piano)
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, Pulborough, England, 18-20 February 2002. DDD
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD037 [72:42]
This is a re-release of a recording that originally appeared on ASV in 2003 (CD DCA 1155) and has been mastered anew for Champs Hill by Alexander Van Ingen. It is in fact the second recital of lieder by Strauss to appear on the label within a year, following Gillian Keith and Simon Lepper's recital, which garnered enthusiastic reviews - here. Evergreen Felicity Lott is still more popular with Champs Hill - see reviews of her Plum Pudding, Call Me Flott and Summertime discs. The equally perennial Graham Johnson appears with her on two of those three. The pair cropped up again last year on a Hyperion reissue of a much earlier recording (review).
Strauss's numerous songs date predominantly from his earlier years; after the Great War he focused more on opera and orchestra. The music here thus belongs to the great Germanic Lieder tradition established by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. It sits stylistically between those and Wolf and Mahler: late-Romantically tuneful and passionate, with the later ones expressively intensified by chromaticism and harmonic ambiguity.
For their part, Lott and Johnson have divided their programme into five neat if loose sections, beginning with a set of songs under the heading 'Nocturnes and Fantasies'. They follow this with four songs under 'Flowers', seven under 'Valedictions and Lullabies' and four under 'Girls in and out of Love', before rounding off their amply-proportioned set with Three Ophelia Songs and Morgen!
"I thank my Almighty Creator for the gift and inspiration of the female voice", Richard Strauss once said. 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!, Ständchen and the (so-called) Four Last Songs. Strauss never makes it easy for either singer or pianist/orchestra, to put it mildly, but Lott and Johnson rise to his many challenges with seemingly plenty to spare. With Johnson's charmingly modest and unfailing attendance, this is a recital peppered with exquisite moments of Olympian power and heroic breath control from Lott. These qualities give the lie to the fact that her remarkable voice is into its sixth decade! It is almost ideal for Strauss here: warmly lyrical, clear, lithe and sensuously intoned, majestic in its dynamic and emotional colourings.
Moreover, Lott's German pronunciation is very good, and that gives her a certain advantage over most of the non-native competition, who fling themselves regularly into the linguistic traps and pits that the German language lays - vowel length, final -'er'/-'e' distinction, glottalisation, lip-rounding and so on. Only seldom, as in Allerseelen, does Lott let slip her foreignness, and mistakes - like 'Leid' for 'Lied' in Wiegenlied, 'zu' without the initial [t] sound in Das Rosenband - are conspicuous only by their rarity. Her diction is generally impeccable - on the odd occasion when clarity is momentarily lost, Strauss with his outrageous vocal demands is surely as much to blame!
Most importantly, though, her phrasing is convincing. Unlike some singers, she seems to understand the meaning of every word. She communicates the emotional content of the poet's text, as twee as it occasionally is, to impressive effect. Actresses often see the portrayal of Shakespeare's Ophelia as an excuse for bathos, but Lott is not one of them: hers is not Ophelia the raving lunatic, but a young woman in much emotional turmoil, distraite, saying things in a stream of consciousness.
The recording is a little on the quiet side, but sound and general technical quality are very good. The booklet contains decent notes by Michael Kennedy (imported from the ASV disc) that discuss the songs under their allocated headings, detailed performer biographies and full song texts in German and well-translated English. As with the Gillian Keith recording, the track-list is slightly misleading, giving the impression that Strauss's op.67 is entitled Three Songs of Ophelia, whereas they are in fact only the first half of a six-song cycle. There are a few typos in the German texts, but of little consequence.
In sum, this is singing as it should be, so many planes of ability above what passes for it in popular culture. A must for connoisseurs of the musical voice.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Singing as it should be.