Richard Strauss Songs, vol. 6
It comes as quite a surprise to find that Richard Strauss’s song cycle Krämerspiegel (Shopkeeper’s Mirror), a satirical swipe at ‘bloodsucking’ music publishers, has been given not to sarcastic baritone, but to a lyric soprano. The gambit reveals Elizabeth Watts’s voice to be more than merely sweet. As well as showing her ability to weave around a wide-ranging phrase, apparent in the first song on the disc, ‘Einerlei’, and incorporating a useful chest voice, she shows a wicked penchant for donning joke fangs in the song cycle. The bloom on the sound, too, draws our attention to how much genuine invention there is in this long chain of satires, abetted by Roger Vignoles’s ability to slip from discordant heavy weather into sparkling waltzes and polkas. The pianist’s limelight here culminates in the lovely Schumannesque interlude which later served the composer so well in his final opera Capriccio.
Whimsy is also a keynote of the early and late songs. Even the simpler settings are not always what they seem: Das Bächlein babbles on prettily until the threefold invocation of ‘Mein Führer’ at the end (the year was 1933, before Strauss’s fall from grace with the regime). Watts and Vignoles calmly pull off this, and the gracious homage to a wartime refuge at Vienna’s Belvedere, and then the real ‘last song’, Malven. A fascinating sequence, then, that never descends into the meretricious.