Four Last Songs; Capriccio – Final Scene
Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano); Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Andris Nelsons
Sony Classical 19439921722 45:26 mins
Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s soprano isn’t, it seems, easily captured on recording. I heard her first, and was amazed, in a Dresden performance of Richard Strauss’s splendid second opera Feuersnot, then as a very singular Marschallin at the Royal Opera – one preferable in characterisation, I think, to Renée Fleming’s in the same run. The mezzoish dark timbre is there right at the start of these Four Last Songs, and you can hear the freedom in the upper register – but not, on this release, the opulent bloom; the recorded sound doesn’t do proper justice. ‘September’ and ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ are the two most successful interpretations of the four, where there’s a real engagement with the text and an authoritative way with phrasing from both Willis-Sørensen and her conductor – no less than Andris Nelsons at the helm of one of his two orchestras right now.
His Leipzig horn (sadly uncredited) is singular both here and in the ‘Moonlight Music’ which precedes the final scene from Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio. Sørensen soars in the sonnet, but maybe needs a lighter touch in the conversational passages near the beginning. Nelsons’s famous over-loving slowness bogs down the epilogue’s final glimpses in the mirror, too, and he’s one of many conductors to take the sunset of the last song as more Adagio than Andante. So many fascinating touches here point the way forward to big Wagner roles eventually – so far Willis-Sørensen seems to be taking it steady – and maybe less Strauss. For the best Four Last Songs of recent years, Sony actually already have a winner in Anja Harteros.