R Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Four Last Songs

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Ein Heldenleben; Four Last Songs
PERFORMER: Dorothea Röschmann (soprano); Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-SACD-1880 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Young Yannick Nézet-Séguin, posing in his shiny jacket on the CD cover, looks as if he’s challenging Herbert von Karajan, attired in a similar leather jacket, on an infamous record sleeve for his 1974 EMI recording of R Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. If only the Rotterdam sound matched the heroics of the Berlin Philharmonic. I love this orchestra in the mellower Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier and the wind serenades, for example. For that reason, the gossamer textures of the ‘Hero’s Works of Peace’ – the famous passage where Strauss weaves in quotations from his works up to 1899 – work best here, the bassoon stylishly leading the superb Rotterdam woodwind. The final retirement is gilded by a glorious horn solo (equally fine in the laying-to-rest of ‘September’
in the Four Last Songs).
 
Up until those later stages, though, the heroism falls flat. I can sense Nézet-Séguin working masterfully towards some big climaxes, but the orchestral sound isn’t intense enough to support the slower burns. The portrait of the hero’s companion from leader Igor Gruppman is sophisticated but wiry and chilly. That you could never say of the personable Dorothea Röschmann – a Strauss soprano voice, rather like those of Lucia Popp and Gundula Janowitz, in which fast vibrato is offset by luminosity and soaring beauty. Röschmann sounds a little short-winded at times, and the vowels are often modified, but there’s always understanding of the text, and the sunset epilogue, well accompanied by the orchestra, is moving. David Nice