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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salzburger Liederabende 1956-2010
Songs & performers listed at end of review
rec. live 1956-2010, Salzburg. ADD. stereo
ORFEO C894142I [79:31 + 76:32]

Eighteen singers – eight sopranos, three mezzo-sopranos, four tenors and three baritones - in fifty songs; six of them sung twice by different singers and selected from live performances ranging from 1956 to 2010. This well-filled, two-disc compilation represents an excellent cross-section of Strauss singing over fifty-four years of songs written mainly in the earlier part of his career, pre-1919.

Many favourites feature but there are also comparative rarities to experience and savour. The extracts from various Liederabende are programmed chronologically and with very little duplication. German texts but no translations are provided in the booklet and the sound is uniformly good stereo with only a few tracks marred by coughing and applause retained, often to indicate the point at which we are about to change singers. The performers are obviously distinguished but there are also some famous names amongst the accompanists, particularly Erik Werba whose contribution here spans nearly thirty years. Most singers are given three songs; four have four to sing and unfortunately the lovely Frederica von Stade has only two. Many of the singers are native German speakers but there are also significant American and Swiss contingents; all are first rate linguists and the texts emerge very clearly.

Those are the facts and statistics; how about the performances? Mostly absolutely first rate; even if I am not a fan of three of the tenors here, I happily concede that these Lieder evenings show them at their best, although Schreier’s and Araiza’s tight vocal production does not much please and Heinz Zednik’s shrill, nasal tenor is a blot on the set, even if he is singing only four short songs from the satirical “Krämerspiegel” rather than anything in Strauss’s habitually rhapsodic style.

It must also be said that the more closely we approach our own era, the less impressive the singing of more recent recitalists becomes compared with their forebears of yesteryear. The final songs from Michael Volle, from his concert of 2010, exhibit a rocky tonal emission with a pronounced wobble and a really clumsy, rushed, insensitive account of that exquisite love-song “Breit’ über mein Haupt”; I had to run off and play the versions by Beverly Sills and Jonas Kaufmann as an antidote.

Otherwise, the singing is often a joy. We start with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in slightly tremulous but highly expressive mode; as you might expect, she makes more of the words in both “Ruhe, meine Seele” and “Schlechtes Wetter” than the stately Marjana Lipovšek or the ample-toned Leontyne Price, who also sing those same two songs respectively. She and Lisa della Casa sound remarkably similar with their delicate, shimmering sopranos. By contrast, Irmgard Seefried is fuller and more impassioned, especially ecstatic in the justly popular “Morgen”. It is noticeable how many of these earlier singers have neat, quick, vibratos which serve the expressiveness of the musical line so much better than a laboured pulse. A youthful Nicolai Gedda is here in best voice, without forcing. Then we hear Christa Ludwig’s rich mezzo; surprisingly, she sings “Cäcilie” a semitone higher than Jessye Norman, rising to a ringing top B flat. She was then in her risky dramatic soprano phase while Norman remained a soprano Falcon. I have never much cared for Hermann Prey’s rather odd tone – a strange combination of a slightly hollow sound but always with a smile in the voice – but he sings with typical detail and vigour, even if I am not taken by his choice of songs.. Peter Schreier pleases until he rises above the stave, when he makes that familiar constricted noise which repels some listeners. Gruberova in 1980 is vibrant and secure in the coloratura pyrotechnics of “Amor”, a song which echoes the music of Zerbinetta, one of her most successful stage roles of that era, but the trademark squeezing and sliding are still in evidence. Jessye Norman displays the Rolls-Royce quality of her voice, rising majestically in “Cäcilie”; this, for me, is the highlight of the set. It’s a shame about the cougher in her first song, though.

I am glad that Edith Mathis has four songs as she, along with Norman, provides the greatest pleasure in her singing. She soars over Strauss’s long lines and infuses her delivery with such energy. The switch to a lower voice in Lipovšek’s mellow mezzo voice brings welcome variety but she is a rather placid singer and the climax of “Befreit” is a little pale. I pass over Zednik for the reasons above to the glorious von Stade in melting voice. We then come to Francisco Araiza, whose reedy tone is not at all to my taste when I think of Wunderlich in these song — and he is also recorded rather distantly; I much prefer to listen to Seefried’s “Ständchen”. Thomas Hampson sings elegantly in impeccable German, making judicious use of his beautiful upper register. Diana Damrau provides some delightfully pure and “keck” singing; this recording was made before her sound loosened and coarsened. I have already expressed disappointment over Michael Volle’s prosaic singing, so this selection does not end on the appropriate high note desired.

I would still turn to recitals by Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch (2005) and Simon Keenlyside and Martin Martineau (1995) for a more consistently satisfying experience of Strauss’s songs but for all its variability, this is obviously a valuable collection, both artistically and historically.

Ralph Moore

Songs listed
Rest, My Soul! op. 27 No. 1
Bad Weather op. 69 No. 5
Hat gesagt – bleibt's nicht dabei op. 36 No. 3
Der Stern op. 69 No. 1
Waldseligkeit op. 49 No. 1
Einerlei op. 69 No. 3
Tomorrow! op. 27 No. 4
Wiegenlied op. 41 No. 1 for Soprano and Orchestra
Ständchen op. 17 No. 2
Secret Invitation op. 27 No. 3 (1894)
Heimkehr op. 15 No. 5
Liebeshymnus op. 32 No. 3
Du meines Herzens Krönelein op. 21 No. 2
The Night op. 10 No. 3
Cäcilie op. 27 No. 2 (1894)
Die Frauen sind oft fromm und still op. 21 No. 5
Bruder Liederlich op. 41 No. 4
Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten op. 19 No. 4 (1885/1888)
Seitdem dein Aug' in meines schaute op. 17 No. 1
Bad Weather op. 69 No. 5
Heimkehr op. 15 No. 5
Die Georgine op. 10 No. 4
Die Zeitlose op. 10 No. 7
All mein' Gedanken op. 21 No. 1
To Night op. 68 No. 1
Säusle, liebe Myrte op. 68 No. 3
Amor op. 68 No. 5
Ich trage meine Minne op. 32 No. 1
Mit deinen blauen Augen op. 56 No. 4
Cäcilie op. 27 No. 2 (1894)
Ach Lieb, ich muß nun scheiden op. 21 No. 3
Schön sind, doch kalt die Himmelssterne op. 19 No. 3 (1885/1888)
Die Verschwiegenen op. 10 No. 6 (1885)
Schlagende Herzen op. 29 No. 2 (1895)
My Heart Is Dumb op. 19 No. 6
Rest, My Soul! op. 27 No. 1
Freed op. 39 No. 4
Von Händlern wird die Kunst bedroht op. 66 No. 1
Die Künstler sind die Schöpfer op. 66 No. 10
Die Händler und die Macher op. 66 No. 11
O Schröpferschwarm, o Händlerkreis op. 66 No. 12
Die erwachte Rose AV 66
Begegnung AV 72
Dreaming Through the Twilight op. 29 No. 1
Dedication op. 10 No. 1
Ständchen op. 17 No. 2
A Welcome Vision op. 48 No. 1
Himmelsboten op. 32 No. 5
Alas, I am an Unlucky Man op. 21 No. 4
Secret Invitation op. 27 No. 3 (1894)
I Wanted to Tie a Nosegay op. 68 No. 2
Cornflower op. 22 No. 1
The Waterlily op. 22 No. 4
And Then No More op. 87 No. 3
In the Sunshine op. 87 No. 4
Breit über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar op. 19 No. 2

Performers
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) and Gerald Moore (piano); Lisa Della Casa (soprano) and Arpad Sandor (piano); Irmgard Seefried (soprano) and Erik Werba (piano); Nicolai Gedda (tenor) and Erik Werba (piano); Christa Ludwig (mezzo) and Erik Werba (piano); Hermann Prey (baritone) and Wolfgang Sawallisch (piano); Leontyne Price (soprano) and David Garvey (piano); Peter Schreier (tenor) and Erik Werba (piano); Edita Gruberova (soprano) and Erik Werba (piano); Jessye Norman (soprano) and Geoffrey Parsons (piano) Edith Mathis (soprano) and Heinz Medjimorec (piano); Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo) and Erik Werba (piano); Heinz Zednik (tenor) and Konrad Leitner (piano); Frederica von Stade (mezzo) and Martin Katz (piano); Francisco Araiza (tenor) and Irwin Gage (piano); Thomas Hampson (baritone) and Wolfram Rieger (piano); Diana Damrau (soprano) and Stephen Matthias Lademann (piano);Michael Volle (baritone) and Helmut Deutsch (piano).