COMPOSERS: Richard Strauss
LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Strauss
PERFORMER: Jacquelyn Wagner, Agneta Eichenholz, James Rutherford, Will Hartmann, Susanne Elmark; Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Marc Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: Challenge Classics CC 72686 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Renée Fleming has been queen of the ball in two recent DVDs of Strauss’s second ‘Viennese masquerade’, after Der Rosenkavalier. But we really need to believe in lovely Arabella as a poised young woman, and Jacquelyn Wagner here in this recording convinces from the start. The clarity and diction of the middle soprano range impress; but it’s a shame we can’t see as well as hear her in Christof Loy’s production, fascinatingly illustrated. The standard equals the Die Frau ohne Schatten so brilliantly paced by Sebastian Weigle (reviewed January 2016). Marc Albrecht indulges the lyric moments a little over-lovingly – Arabella’s farewells to her three suitors hold up the action – but the Netherlands Philharmonic sounds infallibly gorgeous. The balances are superb, fine-textured orchestra warmly embracing the singers on a central soundstage.
Maybe Wagner and Agneta Eichenholz as her sister Zdenka, disguised as a boy because their impecunious parents can’t afford to bring out two daughters into Viennese society, don’t quite blossom at the top of the range as the very greatest Strauss sopranos can. Still, intelligence and warmth make up for that. James Rutherford as the breath of fresh air from the eastern Empire has an alarmingly wide vibrato for a young bass-baritone – too much Wagner (Richard) too soon, it seems – but he can manage the upper reaches well. Will Hartmann’s volatile admirer Matteo fails the golden-tenor criterion, too. Yet it’s all so dramatically convincing, as only a stage production can be. Admirably, there are only two very small cuts in the last act, which already gives this Arabella the edge over older live recordings.