Strauss: Four Last Songs; Cäcilie; Befreit; Muttertändelei; Oboe Concerto

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Carlton BBC Radio Classics
WORKS: Four Last Songs; Cäcilie; Befreit; Muttertändelei; Oboe Concerto
PERFORMER: Heather Harper, Elizabeth Harwood (soprano), John Anderson (oboe); RPO, BBC SO, New Philharmonia Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
CATALOGUE NO: 15656 91382 ADD
Until we reach Harwood’s brighter haven (in a selection of individual orchestral songs), long-term preservation of these performances seems at first unkind, then unnecessary. Heather Harper has left some shining interpretations from the Sixties and Seventies for us to remember her by, so why did she allow these four late-in-the-day songs from the 1981 Proms to be issued? Only evident knowledge of the notes and clear-textured, evenly flowing support from Del Mar and the RPO make this wordless pea-souper of a performance bearable.

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Harwood in her prime is another matter: open vowels and smiles in the voice ally her to Janowitz, though soaring higher the tone can curdle. It’s good to hear the searingly voluptuous ‘Frühlingsfeier’ in her sequence, but the lack of texts and any extended context in the booklet notes will leave some listeners puzzled (unless they catch the key repeated keening of the word ‘Adonis!’).

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This performance of the Oboe Concerto might sufficiently please in concert; on disc, the occasional ragged co-ordination is more worrying, and the finale verges on a flaccidity unthinkable from ensembles like the Orpheus or Chamber Orchestra of Europe. At least John Anderson phrases with fine imagination and dispatches the cadenzas stylishly. David Nice