Vier letzte Lieder; Malven; Mädchenblumen; Drei Lieder der ophelia etc
Diana Damrau (soprano); Helmut Deutsch (piano); Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
Erato 9029530346 73.21 mins
Richard Strauss’s songs never fail to deliver. Harmonically and poetically, they are among the most satisfyingly sensual and luxuriant works ever written. Vocally they are a perfect soprano showcase, enabling everything from a transparent, lucent floating above the texture to a full, heroic slicing through it. In their orchestral versions they are a splendid feast for the ear, drawing out a seemingly infinite variety of solo and ensemble textures. The Four Last Songs, accompanied by an astonishingly agile and transparent orchestra, are hugely enjoyable. Diana Damrau is on excellent form, her metallic and incisive sound matching the instrumentalists’ clarity and precision. The tempos are energetic, verging on brisk. In ‘September’ one can even hear the pattering of the raindrops!
Perhaps as a result, the remaining 19 piano-accompanied songs with seasoned pianist Helmut Deutsch initially sound rather pallid. Altering the recorded sound between the large- and small-scale sound might have helped. The charmingly assembled programme includes one or two revelations, though Damrau and Deutsch mostly gravitate to favourites (eloquently introduced in Richard Stokes’s liner notes). There seems to be no specific plan; sunny, rustic ‘Nichts’ is juxtaposed against the strangeness of ‘Leises Lied’, for example, although there is often a neat musical link between the ends and beginnings of consecutive songs.
Damrau’s dramatic, impassioned performance is nicely counterpointed by Deutsch’s relatively cool restraint, reminding the listener of Strauss’s unlikely affinity with Hugo Wolf. She pours herself into the sentiments of the poetry, managing to bring each one to life. Natasha Loges