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Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949) Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), Op. posth. [20:19] Wiegenlied (Cradle Song), Op.41/1 [4:25] Ruhe, meine Seele! (Rest, My Soul!), Op.27/1 [4:13] Freundliche Vision (Friendly Vision), Op.48/1 [2:47] Waldseligkeit (Woodland Bliss), Op.49/1 [3:29] Morgen! (Tomorrow!), Op.27/4 [4:02] Das Rosenband (The Rose Garland), Op.36/1 (orch. Robert Heger)
[3:09] Zueignung (Dedication), Op.10/1 [1:47] Des Dichters Abendgang (The Poet’s Evening Walk), Op.47/2 [5:04] Capriccio, Op.85: Intermezzo (Moonlight Music) [3:21]; Closing
Felicity Lott (soprano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 10 November 1992; Caird Hall, Dundee,
8 December 1986 9 December 1986, 22 and 23 February 1988 and 16–18 August
Texts and translations included. Reviewed as lossless download from theclassicalshop.net CHANDOS CLASSICS CHAN10075X [69:30]
Das Rosenband (The Rose Garland),
Op.36/1 [2:56] Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden (I intended to make a bouquet),
Op.68/2 [3:31] Säusle, liebe Myrte (Rustle, dear myrtle), Op.68/3 [4:53] Als mir dein Lied erklang (As your song rang out to me), Op.68/4
[3:51] Befreit (Set free), Op.39/4 [5:29] Ruhe, meine Seele! (Rest, My Soul!), Op.27/1 [4:06] Wiegenlied (Cradle Song), Op.41/1 [3:43] Meinem Kinde (To my child) [2:45] Zueignung (Dedication), Op.10/1 [1:35] Morgen! (Tomorrow!), Op.27/4 [3:35] Die heiligen drei Konige aus Morgenland (The three holy Kings
from the East), Op.56/6 [6:09] Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), Op. posth. [20:51]
Soile Isokoski (soprano)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Marek Janowski
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, July 2001. DDD
Texts and translations included ONDINE ODE9822 [64:24]
the recording of Four Last Songs (DG 4793964: Anna Netrebko/Daniel
Barenboim, with Heldenleben) I mentioned a number of alternatives.
Prime among these was the classic and still unsurpassed recording made
by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and George Szell (EMI/Warner 0873812) but I
also mentioned Felicity Lott at budget price and Soile Isokoski, both
with other Strauss Lieder. As we had never actually reviewed either
of these, though I had written in approving terms of Isokoski when I
reviewed the last-but-one reissue of the Schwarzkopf, the Classical
Editor, suggested that I might wish to do so.
The Chandos recording was one of a series of Strauss recordings which
Felicity Lott and Neeme Järvi made in the mid-to-late nineteen-eighties.
When it first appeared in 1987 the Four Last Songs were coupled, as
on the new DG recording, with Ein Heldenleben but the reissue
is more logical and desirable. At the time the main comparison was with
Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Herbert von Karajan (DG, now on a mid-price 2-CD
set, E4742812 with Alpensinfonie) but Felicity Lott can more
than hold her own against the competition; these performances are among
the most delicate that I’ve heard and while the SNO can’t quite match
the Berlin Phil, Neeme Järvi’s direction is thoroughly sympathetic.
If, for any reason, the similar Schwarzkopf programme doesn’t appeal,
the Chandos can be yours for around £6.50.
By one of those hard-to-fathom paradoxes, though the mp3 download from
theclassicalshop.net is less expensive (£4.99), you will pay more for
the CD-quality 16-bit lossless download (£7.99) than for the CD. There’s
also a 24-bit version, but it seems to be an up-rated version of the
original 16-bit, so I listened to the latter, which sounds very well.
Even the slight over-reverberation of the Caird Hall seems to have been
considerably tamed; at any rate I didn’t find it troublesome. Though
this is an inexpensive reissue, the booklet is up to Chandos’s usual
high standard and it’s included with all versions of the download.
Soile Isokoski has made three recordings of the music of Richard Strauss:
the others are with Mariita Viitasalo (ODE1182: Recording of the Month
including the versions with piano of several of the songs included in
orchestral garb on ODE9822 and with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Okko
Kamu on which the main work is the Three Hymns, Op.71 (ODE12022: a ‘disc
not to be missed’ – review).
Reviewing the Schwarzkopf/Szell recording, having played her version
of Morgen!, I came to the conclusion that nothing could match
her until I tried Isokoski and began to think the unthinkable — that
there was very little to choose between them. Isokoski and Janowski
are a little faster – 3:35 against Schwarzkopf and Szell’s 3:50 – without
sounding at all rushed. In the Four Last Songs, Isokoski’s tempi are
consistently a shade or two faster than those of Schwarzkopf/Szell and
closer to those of Schwarzkopf’s earlier recording with Ackerman. I
know that some believe that Isokoski takes these, especially the last
two songs, too fast, but I don’t: with the exception of Frühling,
her timings fall almost exactly half way between those of Schwarzkopf’s
Isokoski captures the mood of the final stanza of Beim Schlafengehen
as ethereally as Schwarzkopf or Lucia Popp with the LPO and Klaus Tennstedt
on another classic recording which I’m pleased to see has resurfaced
at budget price (EMI Red Line 6023172, with the closing scene of Daphne
and twelve Lieder). If anything, I was even more convinced by Isokoski’s
Im Abendrot. My only reservation is that she takes us so completely
into the mood of the poem that the words – by my favourite German Romantic
poet, Eichendorff – sometimes become lost. That applies to just about
every one of my comparisons: the mood at the end is hardly conducive
to clear diction.
Though lyricism is the keynote of Isokoski’s singing she also copes
splendidly with the Wagnerian intensity of Ruhe, meine Seele!
(track 6) and she is well supported throughout. Try the contrast between
soloist and orchestra on that track and in Wiegenlied on the
If you took my advice in the Schwarzkopf review and downloaded the Isokoski
recording from classicsonline.com without booklet, it may be small consolation
to know that they now provide it. Subscribers to their sister streaming
site Naxos Music Library can obtain it from there. It’s every bit as
good as the booklet from Chandos and the new DG.
Schwarzkopf and Lott open proceedings with the Four Last Songs, as does
Netrebko on the new DG. That’s fine when the Netrebko performance is
followed by Ein Heldenleben but in a collection of Lieder I much
prefer to end with the Four Last Songs as Isokoski does. The earlier
(1953) Schwarzkopf recording with the Philharmonia and Otto Ackermann,
which some prefer even to the remake with Szell, also opens with the
Four Last Songs (budget-price Naxos Historical mono 8.111145: Bargain
of the Month – review
– with excerpts from Arabella).
In the final analysis I still place Schwarzkopf and Szell top of my
list and it comes at lower mid-price. Even so, all the others which
I have mentioned have strong points in their favour: the sheer lyrical
beauty of Isokoski, the delicacy of Lott, also attractively priced,
and the sensitivity of both Netrebko and the accompaniment which she
receives from the Berlin Staatskapelle and Barenboim. Though it’s the
oldest recording, apart from the Naxos Historical, the EMI/Warner still
sounds very well but you won’t feel let down by any of the others.