Sinnbild: Four Last Songs; Morgen!; Winterweihe etc.
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (soprano); WDR Symphony Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach
Pentatone PTC 5186 806 46:28 mins
This compact 47 minutes of music offers a traditional selection of songs by Richard Strauss, including ‘Morgen!’, ‘Allerseelen’ and the Four Last Songs (‘Winterweihe’ makes an unusual inclusion). Hanna-Elisabeth Müller hopes to ‘open the door to this world of sound for the listener’, but this particular door has stood open for decades; some of these songs have been recorded over 200 times.
Müller’s voice is technically highly impressive, able to sustain Strauss’s lengthy phrases with a reliable, high-quality sound. However, she refuses Strauss’s tacit invitation to shape the colour or dynamics of the numerous prolonged notes according to the text, favouring an absolutely steady approach.The orchestra is often excellent, highlighting individual voices or small combinations (as in ‘Ständchen’), or fusing into a cushion of sound, such as in the subterranean rumble which opens ‘Waldseligkeit’. The important violin solos of ‘Morgen’ and ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ are beautifully tender and inward; the latter also has exquisitely matched wind and brass sound. Balance is well controlled throughout and recording quality is high.
That said, interpretative choices are firmly in the conventional-conservative camp; don’t expect any luxurious indulging in Strauss’s sensual harmonies, or squeeze and release in the tempos, or string portamento to smooth the edges between notes. ‘Allerseelen’ sounds unexpectedly indifferent; the gardener’s delight ‘Malven’, with its botanical listing, needs more mystery and pathos.
These performances are as glossy and polished as a Jeff Koons sculpture, but the lonely, alienated protagonists of late Romanticism do not come to life despite the outstanding technical musicianship.