Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Three Hymns and Opera Arias
Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60:-
Ein Schönes war (Ariadne) [5:51]
Es gibt ein Reich (Ariadne) [5:13]
Three Hymns, Op. 71
1. Hymne an die Liebe [8:42]
2. Rückkehr in die Heimat [7:04]
3. Die Liebe [6:28]
Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59:-
Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding (Marschallin) [2:38]
Da geht er hin (Marschallin) [4:51]
Capriccio, Op. 85 - Closing scene (Countess) [19:59]
Soile Isokoski (soprano)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Okko Kamu
rec. Helsinki Music Centre, 17-18 and 20 April 2012.
Texts with English translations enclosed
ONDINE ODE 1202-2 [61:21]
Soile Isokoski won second prize in the BBC Singer of the World competition in Cardiff in 1987. She then entered a highly successful career as opera singer, first at the Finnish National Opera – to which she regularly returns– and then conquering the stages of the rest of the world. She has wisely ‘hurried slowly’, choosing roles within the lyrical repertoire. Only gradually has she progressed to slightly heavier things but has never essayed the voice-killers. Mozart and Strauss are high on her list, Marguerite in Faust and Tatiana in Eugene Onegin are other favourites. She has also sung the two light Wagner roles: Elsa in Lohengrin and Eva in Meistersinger.
On Ondine she has recorded Strauss’s orchestral songs, including Vier letzte Lieder, a disc that was universally praised when it was issued in 2002. Last year (2011) a disc with piano accompanied Lieder was also acclaimed by reviewers. Now comes her third Strauss disc. Rubbing shoulders with excerpts from three of the four Strauss operas that are in her stage repertoire (the fourth is Daphne), are the rarely heard Drei Hymne Op. 71. From the mid-1880s until the early 1900s Strauss composed a large number of songs but then turned to opera for more than fifteen years and didn’t return to songs until the end of the war. In 1918 came the six Brentano songs and the twelve songs comprising Krämerspiegel, together with Five little songs (none well known) and Six songs for high voice and piano (including three songs of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Then, after a single Sinnspruch in 1919, another two years passed with little compositional activity. This was the period when he took over the management of the Vienna State Opera and was fully occupied with administrative work. In 1921 he found time to write the Three Hymns to texts by Friedrich Hölderlin, born the same year as Beethoven (1770). They are long and, textually, rather bombastic but musically are wholly engaging. Strauss’s orchestra is as colourful and atmospheric as ever. These are grand and dramatic compositions, calling for a large operatic voice. The premiere was given in 1922 by Barbara Kemp, then one of the leading Wagner sopranos. Soile Isokoski is no Wagner soprano but she is a Strauss soprano, she knows her capacity and sings with her usual silvery tone and total conviction. Even though these hymns linger in the shade of Vier letzte Lieder and other orchestral songs also in the future it is good to have them in such fine readings. It should be added that there have been other recordings that I haven’t heard. Felicity Lott recorded two volumes of his orchestral songs in the 1990s and in volume 2 the hymns are included. I only have volume 1. On Nightingale all the orchestral songs were issued in a 3-CD box that was awarded the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis. Edita Gruberova and Judith Howarth were among the singers. There may be other recordings as well.
Moving over now to the opera excerpts I am well stocked with recordings of Ariadne auf Naxos, where the title role is sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gundula Janowitz, Jessye Norman, Deborah Voigt and Christine Brewer. All of them are good and which one I prefer varies with my mood. Janowitz is the one I return to most frequently. Hearing Isokoski’s Ein Schönes war, so luminous and warm, this is even closer to the ideal. Es gibt ein Reich is just as marvellous.
As it happened I listened to Brilliant Classics’ reissue of the Philips recording of Der Rosenkavalier from 1976 just hours before I played this present disc. On the old set Evelyn Lear was a great surprise as Marschallin, singing with deep and impeccable feeling for the text and the music. Isokoski probes even deeper, singing with more face. Her warm but glittering timbre makes the ‘time’ monologue even more touching. I may be affected by having seen Isokoski in the role but I don’t think this is the only reason. In the earlier monologue – which on this disc comes second – she recalls the young woman who came fresh from the convent and was ordered into holy matrimony. She looks in the mirror, saying: Wo ist die jetzt?(Where is she now?), sighs, and continues: such’ dir den Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr (look for the snows of yesteryear). One hears her resignation, her thought that ‘one day I’ll be an old woman’. This is not only sensitive singing but even more a psychological portrait of Marie Therese. In a flash she sees both the past and the future in one picture, underpinned by the music. This is opera at its most subtle.
Much the same can be said about the long closing scene from Capriccio. The two Elisabeths, Schwarzkopf and Söderström with rare insights into the predicaments of Madeleine, have long been my touchstone interpretations. They remain so but are now joined by Soile Isokoski. Truth to tell there are signs of strain in some high-lying passages, but this is still Strauss singing of the highest order.
Ondine’s recording is excellent. The Helsinki Philharmonic play extremely well under the inspired direction of veteran Okko Kamu. The orchestral introduction to the Capriccio is ravishing. As with the two previous Strauss recitals by Soile Isokoski this is a disc not to be missed.
Göran Forsling
Strauss singing of the highest order. A disc not to be missed.

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