Strauss: Daphne

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Strauss: Daphne
WORKS: Daphne
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Kwanchul Youn, Anna Larsson, Miichael Schade, Johan Botha, Eike Wilm Schulte, Cosmin Ifrim, Gregory Reinhart, Carsten Wittmoser, Julia Kleiter, Twyla Robinson; Men of WDR Radio Choir; WDR SO, Köln/Semyon Bychkov
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6926
A discreet glow in the twilight of studio opera recordings, this has the appearance of the real thing – namely an international cast handsomely welcoming Daphne, a lovely and much-underrated stranger, to Decca’s operatic catalogue. Surely, though, the company in its heyday would have gone for a front-rank orchestra and a warmer, more open sound. Fiddly Cologne Radio engineering clips the wings of accomplished WDR playing, but then Semyon Bychkov’s competent pacing of Strauss’s Indian-summer ‘bucolic tragedy’ stops short of both the nature-ecstasy necessary to establish chaste nymph Daphne’s viewpoint and the Dionysian wildness which frames her struggle with an amorous god.

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Renée Fleming’s many admirers should be pleased enough with her gracious performance. She deals idiomatically with Strauss’s long phrases and points the text well, but apart from a few stunning moments of opulent grief over shepherd Leukippos’s death (sung by Michael Schade) at the hands of rival suitor Apollo (Johan Botha), the voice remains in promising bud rather than full Straussian bloom.

Botha negotiates the insane demands of the heldentenor god so effortlessly that it’s perhaps unfair to demand more in the way of fire-drunk majesty. Schade’s Leukippos provides lighter-voiced contrast, and Daphne’s Wagnerian parents are cast from strength; indeed, bass-baritone Kwanchal Youn lifts the score off the ground single-handedly as he invites Apollo to the feast.

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To hear the whole thing truly throb and soar, though, and for a truly incandescent realisation of Daphne’s final transformation into a laurel tree, hunt out Bernard Haitink’s long-deleted Bavarian version (EMI) with Lucia Popp as a brighter, sweeter alternative to Fleming. Pending its reissue, though, this will do nicely enough. David Nice