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Strauss – The Complete Songs - 2
Anne Schwanewilms – soprano
Roger Vignoles - piano

Hyperion – CDA67588 Recorded August 2006 – 66 minutes

Die Nacht; Geduld; Mein Hertz ist stumm; All’ mein Gedanken; Du meines Herzens Kronelein; Ach Lieb, ich muss nun schieden; O warst du mein! Ruhe, meine Seele! Traum durch die Dammerung; Schlagende Herzen; Nachtgang; Blauer Sommer; Weisser jasmine; Das Rosenband; Waldseligkeit; In goldener Fulle; Wiegenliedchen; Wer lieben will, muss leiden; Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen; Blindenklage; Drei Lieder der Ophelia

Reviewing the first volume of this important new series, The Times noted that "Richard Strauss the man may be widely resistible".  I must confess to ambivalence towards his music, and a resistance to hearing, yet again, some of his most popular songs which can be off-putting because of their sheer "beauty" that can cloy with over-familiarity.

That gives a headstart advantage to an integrale set, of which this is an auspicious first encounter. And another huge plus is the easeful beauty of vocal production of Anne Schwanewilms, a Strauss specialist singer with a worldwide reputation*. She has a rare clarity of tone, remarkable breath control that allows her to spin top notes into complex arches of sound without the least suspicion of vibrato, and colours her voice with a wealth of translucent hues.

And the clinching consideration, which makes this a CD of the month, is the presentation in excellent recording (Julian Millart at All Saints, East Finchley) with succinct but always helpful introductions to each song by Schwanewilms' partner, Roger Vignoles.

We are not scheduled to hear the same singer again (the project is 'shaped around the talents of different singers') but maybe Vignoles will stay with it as a constant lynchpin, as did Graham Johnson for Hyperion's Schubert Edition.

Whilst listening to this CD I came to realise other cogent points in favour of a closer study of Strauss’s songs. The most pressing being that he is the only major composer of opera who also produced a comparable output of lieder. The contrast in scale in writing for these two media is immense, and it says much for Strauss’s breadth vision that he was able to encompass the span of both.

Another facet that appeals to me is that Strauss seems to have gone out of his way to find poems that no other composer had selected. It is not until around Op 56 (1906) that he turned to two “greats” Heine and Goethe, and many of his most successful songs are set to poems by his contemporaries, von Schack, Dahn, Henckell, Bierbaum, Busse and Dehmel, all represented on this CD.

The selection is well varied. The familiar Der Rosenband follows the equally charming but seldom heard Weisser Jasmin, but other moods also prevail. Schlagende Herzen with its recitative style is completely different from the serene beauty of a “typical” Strauss song, and yet is a perfect example of its genre, and the two settings of Alsace folk songs share the same gently mocking humour as the “Hansi” drawings.

Towards the end of the compilation emotion darkens with the quite extraordinary Blindenklage, distinctly operatic in its complexity, and the three Ophelia songs which are sheer masterpieces of dramatic musical invention.

I look forward to more exploration as further discs in the Edition appear.


* Anne Schwanewilms is scheduled to make her Wigmore Hall debut recital, with Roger Vignoles on 5 December 2007 when they will perform a selection of the songs recorded here alongside some of Mahler’s.

* * See also review of this CD in MusicalCriticism