R Strauss, Wagner

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COMPOSERS: R Strauss,Wagner
LABELS: Telarc
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss, Wagner
WORKS: Four Last Songs; Tod und Verklärung
PERFORMER: Christine Brewer (soprano); Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Donald Runnicles
CATALOGUE NO: CD 80661
Christine Brewer and Donald

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Runnicles made an incandescent

team in a Barbican concert Tristan

und Isolde spread over three widelyspaced

evenings (see Opera Choice,

p75) – careful circumstances akin

to a legendary recorded Tristan

featuring the other most beautifullysung

Isolde of our time, Margaret

Price, with Carlos Kleiber. While

Brewer’s Liebestod, gleaming with

characteristic generosity of spirit, may

lack the last degree of Price’s more

centred radiance, she almost makes

up for the shocking absence of a

studio Four Last Songs from the other

great soprano. It’s a long time since

we’ve had such a richly-gilded sound

in this repertoire, darker colours in

the lower register moving seamlessly

to luminous tone above the stave, and

when Strauss really lets the text take

precedence over soaring opulence

of line, at the start of the third and

fourth songs, Brewer inflects the

words with evident sympathy.

The Atlanta Symphony

Orchestra under Runnicles sounds

equally glorious, in warmly lit and

irreproachably balanced sound

that lends a striking realism to the

individual colours of the woodwind

solos and the gauzy sickroom

atmosphere at the start of Death and

Transfiguration. Runnicles can be

sluggish – not, I think, in the Tristan

Prelude where he establishes a slow

burn for a dramatic payoff once

orchestral dialogues begin to kindle,

but the childhood memories of the

tone poem and ‘Autumn’ in the Four

Last Songs feel unnecessarily torpid.

Those are small faults against the

rhythmic definition, firmly etched

bass lines and admirably textured

ensembles crucial to all three works

here – singular and fresh enough to

stand in their own right within this

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thoughtful programme. David Nice