Visions of Childhood
R Strauss: Four Last Songs (arr. J Ledger); Wagner: Siegfried Idyll (arr. Woods); plus works by Humperdinck, Mahler and Schubert
April Fredrick (soprano); English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
Nimbus NI 6408 79:30 mins
This probably worked well as a lockdown video. It has all the right ingredients: imaginative programming and interweaving, arrangements of larger-scale scores for the limited ensembles called for by the times, and what looks – to judge from the booklet photos – like fun presentation. As an album, it feels surplus to need. The recording is a drawback: the woodwind sound as if they were recorded in a bathroom down the hall. And Kenneth Woods’s idea to make slimmed-down versions of the Humperdinck and Mahler numbers following the tradition of those now-famous Viennese presentations of 1919-21 doesn’t quite come off, though the attempt at interweaving Schubert songs with their chamber-musical variations is unique.
Soprano April Fredrick does a decent job with some good word-pointing. But the disc, full to the 80-minute brim, should have stopped before Strauss’s Four Last Songs. The arrangement, this time by James Ledger, is effective, but the pacing pickles each setting in aspic and Fredrick’s upper register is anything but the necessary gold and silver here (only the best will do in these often-recorded masterpieces). The best interpretation is of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, an adaptation of the chamber original (though a clarinet is no substitute for the first horn). That hateful thickener the harmonium, having made a nasty intrusion in ‘Death and the Maiden’, threatens to sweep away the magic just before the end, but the last bars are exquisite, and with high quality string players such as Zoe Beyers and Joely Koos in the team, so they should be.
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