Strauss: Don Juan; Tod und Verklärung; Vier letzte Lieder

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LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Don Juan; Tod und Verklärung; Vier letzte Lieder
PERFORMER: Deborah Voigt (soprano); New York PO/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-25990-2
Although made up of familiar works, this disc is an imaginative commemoration of Richard Strauss on the 50th anniversary of his death (it was released at the end of 1998). Two contrasting early tonepoems are followed by the magical Four Last Songs of nearly 60 years later. The final song movingly quotes the theme of ‘the ideal’ from Death and Transfiguration at the words ‘Is this perhaps death?’ And, as David Nice points out in his excellent notes, the sensual Don Juan was written as Strauss was getting to know his future wife Pauline, a singer who was to influence his soprano writing.


These are live performances (though without applause) given in Avery Fisher Hall, New York, in December 1997; the recording succeeds in balancing clarity with a coherent full-orchestra sound. The New York Philharmonic is on good form, with some brilliant string playing, beautiful violin and horn solos, and very few lapses. Masur leads well-shaped, well-controlled performances, with a convincing collapse at the end of Don Juan and a glowing ending to its companion-piece. But in the Songs, Deborah Voigt is all too clearly projecting her Wagnerian soprano into the hall, and never sounds as if she dare relax into Strauss’s luxuriantly winding lines.


Perhaps the Songs are easier to bring off under studio conditions – as in the famous 1973 recording by the creamy-voiced Gundula Janowitz with Karajan. This is now on a DG reissue which also includes a thrilling, live Death and Transfiguration under Karl Böhm: altogether, unless you insist on up-to-date sound, a better bargain. Anthony Burton