R Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie; Four Last Songs

COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss
WORKS: Eine Alpensinfonie; Four Last Songs
PERFORMER: Anja Harteros (soprano); Staatskapelle Dresden/Fabio Luisi
CATALOGUE NO: 88697141972

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Majestic versions of the Alpine Symphony have been piling up in the CD ranks in almost indecent abundance. This is perhaps the summit of recent achievements for its masterly balance between profound contemplation and decent urgency. Emerging out of the mists of the Dresden Lukaskirche acoustics, Strauss’s succession of mountain themes never stand out in rough profile but swim in the sauce, to paraphrase Sibelius. Luisi knows where he wants his centres of gravity: there’s unique space around the rhapsody with solo strings that unfolds after entering the forest, the climaxes of the summit paean are surely placed, and the Epilogue is graced by superlative horn tone. Graphic touches also outstrip every rival version, among them the shrill birdsong, the bleating oboes on the high pastures and the shriek of delight which follows. The recording helps to avoid sonic overkill with fine perspectives and some helpful reverberation.

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As if that weren’t enough, we also have one of the most impassioned and committed Four Last Songs on disc. Anja Harteros puts heart and soul into each song, even at the risk of a sharp top note or two; but this is about communicating the way Strauss sets the texts, not just about the beauty of the voice – though Harteros’s is certainly handsome, if not quite as gorgeously upholstered as Christine Brewer’s. Her breath control is little short of amazing – no need for her to break up the last ‘augen’ in ‘September’, as most sopranos do – and her support from Luisi and the Staatskapelle orchestra is flexible and, ultimately, deeply moving.