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Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
The Complete Songs – 8
Nicky Spence (tenor: 1–16)
Rebecca Evans (soprano: 17-20)
Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. 2016, All Saints‘ Church, East Finchley, London
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
HYPERION CDA68185 [64:23]

This ultimate volume in Hyperion’s series of Richard Strauss’s complete songs is an act of mopping up odd songs and groups of songs that had for various reasons been overlooked. It also represents a departure from the original decision “to record all of Strauss’s 174 songs for voice and piano, but to ignore any that were composed directly for orchestra”. The departure is the Vier letzte Lieder, the composer’s Swansong. Of course there was a very last song, the beautiful Malven, never published in Strauss’s lifetime and premiered in 1985 by Kiri Te Kanawa. It was included in volume 6, sung by Elizabeth Watts. And why shouldn’t the Vier letzte Lieder be included, even though they are so very orchestrally conceived and Strauss never wrote a piano score? I’ll come back to that and concentrate on the “real” piano songs first.

The opening song is one of the great ones, Cäcilie, which belonged to the four songs he presented to Pauline on their wedding day in 1894. The others were Heimliche Aufforderung, Morgen! and Ruhe, meine Seele! – and what a wedding present they were! Strauss may not be regarded as quite the equal of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf when looking at his total oeuvre, but these four definitively are equals, and Cäcilie stands out on this disc as a beacon surrounded by distant stars against a sky black as night. Close familiarity with a piece of music naturally makes it stand out from lesser known works, but the song has stature, a personal address you can’t avoid. This is not to say that the other songs here are without interest. On the contrary, there are several attractive ones that I will return to with pleasure. A lot of music is agreeable and worth hearing over and over again, even though one hardly can classify them as masterworks. The lively and humoristic Bruder Liederlich is one such, and the soft and inward An Sie, written two days earlier in August 1899, is memorable. It is sung mostly in half-voice, really memorably. This song should be performed more often! Die sieben Siegel is delicate, light and airy, Ich sehe wie in einem Spiegel, likewise. And Morgenrot with its transparent accompaniment is unmistakably Straussian. Several of these songs composed in the autumn and winter 1899/1900 are settings of Friedrich Rückert, who no doubt was inspirational to him. Sie wissen nicht (Oskar Panizza), written a year and a half later. It’s a sweet little song about a bird who doesn’t know that she is a beautiful nightingale.

From the turn of the century there is a jump in time to 1918. In the meantime Strauss had devoted much of his time to opera. Salome (1903-1905), Elektra (1906-1908), Der Rosenkavalier (1909-1910), Ariadne auf Naxos (1911-1912), the second version of Ariadne (1915-1916) and Die Frau ohne Schatten (1914-1917) had occupied him and The Great War had shattered Central Europe forever. The songs he produced then are more elusive but of course not without merits. And Nicky Spence sings throughout this programme stylishly and beautifully – and with expression. Occasionally his bright high notes can be rather penetrating, but by and large this is excellent Lieder singing.

Finally we move to the year 1948, when Strauss created his last four songs between May and September. The piano transcription of the orchestral score of Im Abendrot, the earliest of the four but usually as here, placed last in the cycle, was made by Ernst Roth, Strauss’s publisher at Boosey & Hawkes, while the other three was the work of Max Wolff. The transcriptions are sensitively made and run as close as possible to the orchestral score. In spite of that, and in spite of Roger Vignoles’s excellent playing, the effect is a little like seeing a colour photo in black and white. Knowing the original colours of the full score it is still possible to conjure up the colours anyway and experience the flute trills, exquisitely played by Vignoles. But it is the singing of Rebecca Evans that really works magic. With the piano accompaniments she can hold back further and create an intimacy that makes this reading stand out from all orchestral versions. Her hushed soft singing is truly magical and makes this disc required listening for all Straussians – and they will find a lot to admire in the largely little known songs that fall on Nicky Spence’s lot.

The recording is out of Hyperion’s top drawer and Roger Vignoles, who is the mastermind behind the whole series, provides one of his deeply illuminating essays in the booklet.

A glorious finale to this series!

Göran Forsling

Track listing
1. Cäcilie, Op. 27 No. 2 (1894) [2:21]
2. Wenn … Op. 31 No. 2 (1895) [2:01]
3. Bruder Liederlich Op. 41 No. 4 (1899) [3:20]
4. An Sie Op. 43 No. 1 (1899) [3:36]
5. Die Ulme zu Hirsau Op. 43 No. 3 (1899) [4:53]

6. Ein Obdach gegen Sturm und Regen Op. 46 No. 1 (1900) [2:20]
7. Gestern war ich Atlas Op. 46 No. 2 (1899) [2:57]
8. Die sieben Siegel Op. 46 No. 3 (1899) [2:14]
9. Morgenrot Op. 46 No. 4 (1900) [3:33]
10. Ich sehe wie in einem Spiegel Op. 46 No. 5 (1900) [5:30]

11. Sie wissen’s nicht Op. 49 No. 5 (1901) [2:31]
12. Junggesellenschwur Op. 49 No. 6 (1901) [2:24]

Drei Lieder aus den Büchern des Unmuts des Rendsch Nameh (1918) [4:51]
13. Wer wird von der Welt verlangen Op. 67 No. 4 [1:44]
14. Hab‘ ich euch denn je geraten Op. 67 No. 5 [2:11]
15. Wanderers Gemütsruhe Op. 67 No. 6 [0:57]

16. Der Pokal Op. 69 No. 2 (1918) [1:30]

Vier letzte Lieder Op. posth. (1948) [20:20]
17. Frühling (piano transcription by Max Max Wolff) [3:30]
18. September (piano transcription by Max Max Wolff) [4:40]
19. Beim Schlafengehn (piano transcription by Max Max Wolff) [5:11]
20. Im Abendrot (piano transcription by Ernst Roth) [7:00]



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