R Strauss Lieder: Soile Isokoski

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Richard Strauss
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Lieder incl. op. 39; op. 10; op 36
PERFORMER: Soile Isokoski (soprano), Marita Viitasalo (piano)

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In her second disc of Richard Strauss songs for Ondine – this time not with orchestra but partnered by her long-term pianist Marita Viitasalo – Soile Isokoski begins with disarming lightness of touch. The tone at first is one of straightforward intimacy, and the simpler love songs seem strikingly direct, once you get used to her marriage of fast vibrato with inbuilt warmth.

It’s easy to forget that, at its core, this is a rich, almost heroic voice, modulating its way with seeming effortlessness through the bigger numbers at the heart of the recital – the spiritual journeys of Mein Herz ist stumm and Befreit – and opening out in those that launch with deceptive modesty. Isokoski’s technique has stood the test of time: she pulls off the vivacious delicacy of Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten and the sotto voce rapture of Ständchen alongside effulgent rhapsodies such as Cäcilie.

It’s only in the third and most schizoid of the three Ophelia Lieder, always striking fare in any Strauss song recital, that the art concealed beneath the surface comes to the fore. Viitasalo is clearly supportive – I like the spacious tempo she sets for a fresh take on Zueignung – but more of an accompanist than an equal partner; and I do wish the two had sprung the humour of Muttertänderlei a little more vividly. That said, if you like your Strauss done without apparent fuss or overt word-pointing, there’s nothing else to fault here.

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David Nice