R Strauss: Four Last Songs; Ein Heldenleben

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WORKS: Four Last Songs; Ein Heldenleben
PERFORMER: Anna Netrebko (soprano), Wolfram Brandl (violin); Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 479 3964


‘Each note was perfectly placed,’ runs a Berlin press quotation on the back cover about Anna Netrebko’s Strauss. I’m afraid not. Highlighted on the front as the diva in crimson against snow – though winter is the only season that doesn’t figure in the Four Last Songs – Netrebko remains unfocused in lyric-dramatic soprano territory: hers is a potentially magnificent instrument imperfectly wielded. Pitch can falter, the top can sound blowsy and the low register at the start belongs to a dowager duchess.

One or two odd vowel sounds apart, the German isn’t bad: summer’s weary eyes are duly lined and the stillness of the land in the big farewell sounds right – only for an inappropriate line break to sneak in, of the kind that disrupt ‘Beim schlafengehen’. Barenboim’s orchestra sounds authentic until oversentimentality creeps into the quiet moments, as in the violin solo to initiate the soul’s soaring.

The notion that extra piano means extra slow also ultimately sabotages an otherwise opulent account of the hero’s life and deeds in Ein Heldenleben: the ‘Works of Peace’ sag perilously when they should soar, and the opening of a beautifully-timbred farewell is fatally mannered. Near-miraculous engineering gives us phenomenal details – cross-rhythm lower-string pizzicato in the opening, swirling harps in the love-scene – but also overblows Daniel Barenboim’s most emphatic moments (and why the unmarked timpani swell in the homecoming?). Good hi-fi demonstration material, all the same. But for Four Last Songs, discover the real thing in Anja Harteros (BR Klassik) or Anne Schwanewilms (Orfeo).


David Nice