Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Lieder for soprano and piano
1. Allerseelen, Op. 10/8 [2:58]
2. Schön sind, doch kalt die Himmelssterne, Op. 19/3 [1:55]
3. Die Nacht, Op. 10/3 [2:39]
4. Ich trage meine Minne, Op. 32/1 [2:29]
5. Die Georgine, Op. 10/4 [3:50]
6. Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden, Op. 21/3 [1:53]
7. Mein Auge, Op. 37/4 [2:57]
8. Meinem Kinde, 37/3 [2:25]
9. Muttertändelei, Op. 43/2 [2:39]
10. All mein Gedanken, Op. 21/1 [1:12]
11. Ständchen, Op. 17/2 [2:48]
12. Zueignung, Op. 10/1 [1:59]
13. Das Rosenband, Op. 36/1 [3:06]
14. Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten, Op. 19/4 [1:53]
15. Du meines Herzens Krönelein, Op. 21/2 [2:06]
16. Mein Herz ist stumm, Op. 19/6 [3:09]
17. Befreit, Op. 39/4 [5:06]
18. Morgen!, Op. 27/4 [3:43]
19. Cäcilie, Op. 27/2 [2:13]
20-22. 3 Lieder der Ophelia, Op. 67/13 [7:27]
23. Malven, Op. posth. [2:44]
Soile Isokoski (soprano)
Marita Viitasalo (piano)
rec. Järvenpää Hall, July-August 2011
ONDINE ODE 1187-2 [64:05]
This delightful disc is a treat for lovers of Strauss, of lieder and of the soprano voice as a whole. Soile Isokoski won many plaudits for her 2002 disc of Strauss’s orchestral lieder, and a decade later she triumphs again with this CD of lieder with piano accompaniment.
Strauss’s lifelong love affair with the soprano voice is well known, and Isokoski is as fine an interpreter of his work as you could hope for today. I’ve been lucky enough to experience her live as both the Marschallin and Countess Madeleine; she is enthralling in the flesh and she is every bit as involving on disc. The voice is rich, full and opulent with a pearly edge that sets it off beautifully. Hearing her in the opening phrase of Allerseelen, I was reminded more than ever of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, an artist to whom she has often been compared. She has all of Schwarzkopf’s beauty of tone - if not even more - but without the affectation that later came to mar some of the German soprano’s recordings. She uses her voice with remarkable expression to inhabit each nuance of Strauss’s writing, and she repeatedly reminds the listener that Strauss had an extraordinary gift for setting words. Listen, for example, to the final phrase of Die Georgine. The song, about the dahlia in its late flowering, is about awareness of love and the joy that it brings until the final bars – “und derselbe Schmerz” (and the same pain) – where Isokoski turns the colour of her voice remarkably to reflect the transition from joy to pain. The first thing that will strike you, however, is the ease and grace with which she commands the full register of the songs. The top is particularly fine, gleaming with peculiar beauty and showing not a hint of strain. In fact, she seems to ascend effortlessly, as if riding the crest of a wave. It’s a quality that won me over again and again, and repeatedly creates a sound to wallow in.
The songs themselves consistently display the symbiotic relationship between composer and interpreter at its very finest. Schön sind doch kalt die Himmelsterne is a wonderfully heartfelt love song, a celebration of love and nature sung in a truly celebratory manner, and Isokoski revels in the rich implications of the language as much as in the notes. Ich trage meine Minne is sung with a wonderfully refulgent sound which the simplicity of the melody makes even more winning, and Mein Auge is quietly rapturous with a throbbing piano accompaniment that suggests a universe of meaning. The famous Morgen is given an outstanding treatment, and it made me think for the first time that not once did I miss the orchestra. In fact, Marita Viitasalo inhabits the piano so fully that she seems to play almost orchestrally, and the beauty and sensitivity of her playing are every bit as significant as the singing in the success of this disc. Likewise, the shimmering accompaniment of Ständchen brilliantly colours the tale of a liaison between lovers, informing and developing the contribution of the soprano.
I could carry on heaping praise, but I’ll finish by focusing on Befreit, the highlight of the disc. The three verses each end with the phrase “O Glück!” (O happiness!) and Isokoski rises ecstatically to every refrain, but each time it is different, here suggesting fulfilment, there tinged with longing. It showcases at their very finest both her gifts as an interpreter and Strauss’s as a composer, and the ending is absolutely transcendent. If another song recital as good as this comes our way this year, then we will be blessed indeed.
Simon Thompson
If another song recital as good as this comes our way this year, then we will be blessed indeed.