Samples & Downloads
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
1. Traum durch die Dämmerung (Dreaming in the twilight), Op.
29, No. 1 [2:27]
2. Wiegenlied (Lullaby/Cradle Song), Op. 41, No. 1 [3:51]
3. Meinem Kinde (To My Child), Op. 37, No. 3 [2:50]
4. Gesang der Apollopriesterin (Song of the priestess of Apollo),
Op. 33, No. 3 [5:42]
5. Allerseelen (All Soul’s Day), Op. 10, No. 8 [3:12]
6. Ruhe, meine Seele (Be still, my soul!), Op. 27, No. 1 [3:49]
7. Cäcilie (Cecilia), Op. 27, No. 2 [2:20]
8. Mein Auge (My eye), Op. 37, No. 4 [2:35]
9. Waldseligkeit (Woodland Bliss), Op. 49, No. 1 [3:19]
10. Morgen! (Tomorrow!), Op. 27, No. 4 [3:42]
11. Befreit (Released), Op. 39, No. 4 [5:57]
Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), Op. posth (1948)
12. Frühling (Spring) [3:48]
13. September [5:25]
14. Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep) [5:37]
15. Im Abendrot (At Sunset) [8:00]
Michaela Kaune (soprano)
NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Hanover/Eiji Oue
rec. live, 6-7 May 2004, Large Studio of the NDR National Broadcasting
Station, Hanover, Germany (tracks 1-11). 15-17 November 2004, St.
Athanasius Kirche, Hanover, Germany (tracks 12-15)
BERLIN CLASSICS 0017812BC [62:32]
Occasionally you come across a recording that is new to you
although it has been in the catalogue for several years. You
marvel at its quality wondering why you haven’t heard it before.
Sung by soprano Michaela Kaune this outstanding CD is
one of those discs.
Recently I watched a 2006 archive broadcast from the Berlin
Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. It was Sir Mark
Elder’s delightful semi-staged performance of Humperdinck’s
opera Hansel and Gretel - abridged children version aimed
at children - from the Philharmonie. The performance is currently
available to watch free of charge. Highlights can be seen in
a trailer on their Digital Concert Hall. Link: http://www.digitalconcerthall.com/en/concert/64
I was struck by the outstanding acting and stunning soprano
voice of Michaela Kaune in the role of Gretel. Consequently
I began looking for Kaune recordings and this Berlin Classics
disc is the result.
Although Hamburg-born Kaune performs internationally she has
tended to concentrate on operatic roles in her native Germany.
She joined the Deutsche Oper in Berlin as far back as the 1997/8
season and has played numerous roles there including Micaëla
in Carmen, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, Marguerite
in Faust, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, the Countess
in Le nozze di Figaro, Anna in Marschner’s Hans Heiling,
Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice and the title role in Arabella.
Not surprisingly, she has appeared in many of Europe’s major
opera houses. Notably in 2008 she made her debut at the Bayreuth
Festspiele singing Eva in Katharina Wagner’s production of Die
Meistersinger von Nürnberg. More recently in the Deutsche
Oper Berlin’s 2010/11 season she was the Countess in Le Nozze
di Figaro, Madame Lidoine in Dialogues des Carmélites
and Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos. This season she
has taken the part of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier
at the Deutsche Oper Berlin where she is also to assume
the title role in Janáček’s Jenůfa in January
On this excellent Berlin Classics disc the feature work is
the Four Last Songs. These were composed in 1948, a year
before the composer’s death. They were posthumously published.
Not surprisingly these masterworks have been recorded on numerous
occasions and the competition in the catalogues is particularly
fierce. Since its release in 2006 Kaune’s recording has rather
fallen under the radar with higher profile sopranos on major
labels such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Jessye Norman and Renée
Fleming taking centre-stage.
Strauss’s Four Last Songs are often classed as being
amongst the most haunting and moving music that has ever been
composed. To me this is an autumnal work, suffused with nostalgia,
the colours of sunset and the experience of a long, productive
and controversial life. The settings of Hermann Hesse (the first
three songs) and Joseph von Eichendorff (the fourth song) contemplate
Spring (Frühling), September, Going
to Sleep (Beim Schlafengehen) and At Sunset (Im
Abendrot). It was in 1950 at London’s Royal Albert Hall
when the great Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad gave the world
première accompanied by the Philharmonia under Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Michaela Kaune’s bright and creamy-toned voice has considerable
amplitude with impeccable diction and the natural ability to
capture the spirit of the texts. Undoubtedly these Strauss songs
have been performed more sumptuously and by voices with
more honey and silk but they have surely never been expressed
in a more genuinely heart-felt way or with more radiance. The
German soprano seems comfortable right across her range. She
has the ability to glide up to the highest notes with alarming
ease and her light vibrato is never obtrusive. With all this
assurance and drama communicated it is not difficult to accept
that Kaune is a natural actress.
Lightly scored, the rocking accompaniment to Wiegenlied (Lullaby/Cradle
Song) is provided by a mere seven strings. The assured Kaune
is quite enchanting. This is the finest performance of Wiegenlied
that I have heard. Credit is due to the NDR Radio Philharmonic
Orchestra under Eiji Oue for their rich and full accompaniment
in Gesang der Apollopriesterin (Song of the priestess
of Apollo) here sung so dramatically. The perfume of rose petals
is evoked by the captivating interpretation of Allerseelen
(All Soul’s Day) and in the passionate setting Cacilie
(Cecilia) the sumptuous, sweet-toothed accompaniment is remarkable.
Kaune’s atmospheric rendition of the justly celebrated Morgen!
(Tomorrow!) is as tender and soft as feather-down with a plaintive
violin solo that suggests weeping tears.
Throughout Vier letzte Lieder Kaune displays ravishing
vocal quality with a wide range of tone colour. It seems appropriate
that Oue refrains from rushing proceedings along and allows
the music to breathe. I especially enjoyed the radiantly performed
Frühling (Spring) with the voice soaring with consummate
ease. The horn solo in September is quite magical. Opened
by low dark strings in Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep)
the powerful climax as the singer depicts the re-awakening subject
is remarkable in force. It makes the hairs stand up on the back
of the neck. The violin solo at 1:44 has never sounded as meltingly
beautiful. In the shimmering Im Abendrot (At Sunset)
Kaune confidently conveys Strauss’s intense and wearying emotions
implying reconciliation in the face of approaching death. The
eleven orchestral songs were impressively recorded at a live
concert at the large studio of the NDR National Broadcasting
Station, Hanover. No applause has been left in and there is
little unwanted noise to detract from the enjoyment. Recorded
at St. Athanasius Church, Hanover the Four Last Songs are
marginally less vivid.
Of the alternative versions in the catalogue I remain an admirer
of the enthralling and award-winning 1982 Leipzig account of
the Four Last Songs performed by Jessye Norman. Kurt
Masur conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Norman’s warmly passionate
interpretation is outstanding. Taken by Kurt Masur at measured
pace Norman displays a driven desire for high drama. My version
is on Philips 411 052-2 (c/w Strauss 6 Orchestral Songs).
Renée Fleming with the Munich Philharmonic under Christian Thielemann
on Decca 478 0647 is sumptuous and highly moving. Depending
on my mood I can find Fleming’s approach a touch over-sentimental,
even cloying. It is coupled with Strauss’s 4 Orchestral Songs,
3 Songs from Ariadne auf Naxos and 1 song from
Die ägyptische Helena. Much lamented since her untimely
death Lucia Popp made a most heart-rending London recording
in 1982 with Klaus Tennstedt conducting the London Philharmonic
Orchestra. My account is found on the compilation double set
‘The Very Best of Lucia Popp’ EMI Classics 5 85102 2.
I fully agree with the substantial crowd of admirers of the
award-winning version from the assured Soile Isokoski. She possesses
a firm and silvery timbre. Isokoski does however lose a touch
of intensity and warmth at the expense of her cool precision.
Isokoski’s 2001 recording was made in Berlin with Marek Janowski
and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra on Ondine ODE 982-2
(c/w Strauss 11 Orchestral Songs). A lesser known but
outstanding account comes from Anja Harteros and the Bavarian
Radio Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons on BR Klassik
900707 (c/w Strauss Rosenkavalier Suite, Till Eulenspiegels).
Recorded live in 2009 at the Munich Philharmonie Harteros’s
warm and expressive tone conveys impressive sincerity and gravitas.
I also rate highly the captivating version from Cheryl Studer.
Her creamy texture and warmly expressive tones are complemented
by the Dresden Staatskapelle under Giuseppe Sinopoli. Studer
made the recording in Dresden in 1993 on Deutsche Grammophon
439 865-2. The valuable coupling includes Studer’s marvellous
performance of Wagner’s 5 Wesendonk Lieder and the Vorspiel
and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Two other
splendid versions worthy of consideration are from: Gundula
Janowitz who sings beautifully taking great care with the meaning
of the text. Janowitz is accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic
under Karajan recorded in 1973 in Berlin; it’s on Deutsche Grammophon
‘The Originals’ 447 422-2 (c/w Tod und Verklärung and
Metamorphosen). There is also the powerful and dramatically
sung 2007 release from Nina Stemme who is one of the younger
sopranos on the scene today. I did find her heavy vibrato rather
wearing. Stemme is accompanied by the Orchestra of the Royal
Opera House, Covent Garden under Antonio Pappano. It’s on EMI
Classics 378 7972 (c/w Strauss final scenes from Capriccio
Of the older accounts a confident recommendation must go to
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s recording with the Berlin Radio Symphony
Orchestra under George Szell. For this stunning version Schwarzkopf,
then in her fifties, demonstrates a tremendous range of interpretative
insights with a voice of heavenly beauty. This truly classic
recording from Berlin in 1965 is on an excellent digitally re-mastered
disc of Great Recordings of the Century EMI Classics
5 66908 2 (c/w Strauss 12 Orchestral Songs).
For Berlin Classics Michaela Kaune proves a thoughtful and radiantly
beautiful interpreter. Fingers crossed for a future recording
by of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder.
Masterwork Index: Four