PERFORMER: Mitsuko Shirai (mezzo-soprano), Hartmut Höll (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 10 497 DDD
Apart from the fact that the texts are not accompanied by translations, this is the ideal disc for anyone looking for an introduction to Richard Strauss as songwriter. With their characteristic artistry and dedication, Shirai and Höll select works from each part of Strauss’s career, with the exception of the very early and the Four Last Songs. Six late-Romantic settings of the poems of Von Gilm, including a slightly effortful ‘Zueignung’ and a feisty ‘Die Verschwiegenen’, precede six by Felix Dahn, with Shirai’s colour-drenched evocations of cornflowers and poppies from Mädchenblumen particularly beautifully sung.
Three years after his first opera, Strauss returned to songwriting, responding with greater flexibility to more progressive, contemporary poets such as Mackay and Dehmel. Shirai and Höll understand the value of silence, and give enough time and space to ‘Morgen’ to share its elusive music properly between voice and hands. Then, after a 12-year gap, when Strauss was preoccupied with his great operatic collaborations with Hofmannsthal, he began to compose at far ends of his own artistic spectrum. This fascinating period is represented by the musically outspoken, satirical cabaret-style songs from Krämerspiegel, performed with due panache; and finally the angular, aetiolated Ophelia songs from Hamlet which Shirai and Höll show to be as startling and disturbing as ever. Hilary Finch