Strauss: Orchestral Songs Vol. 2

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COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Orchestral Songs Vol. 2
PERFORMER: Felicity Lott (soprano); SNO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9159 DDD
Chandos’s second volume of Richard Strauss Lieder for voice and orchestra ventures vigorously off the beaten track – only ‘Zueignung’ (an 1885 song in its 1940 orchestration) can be called at all familiar. That apart, little here exemplifies Strauss’s most instantly gratifying melodic vein; this, along with the demand of almost all these songs for an ample orchestra elaborately used, may explain their infrequent appearance in concert halls and on record.

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The neglect is unjust:Strauss never lost the ability to set a high voice soaring appealingly above a glowing instrumental ensemble, and while his lyrical invention sometimes failed to sound the depths of his chosen verse, the splendid Three Hymns (1921), on poems by Friedrich Hölderlin, show how nobly he could rise to the occasion when sufficiently spurred. The vocal writing, requiring both gravity and high-flying ease, relates the Hymns to the Empress’s monologues in Act III of the contemporary opera Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919).

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Felicity Lott, although a cultivated, exquisitely musical singer, here lacks the last degrees of tonal fullness, warmth and spiritual abandon. Under Järvi the playing tends to the energetically prosaic; the recordings (made over a period of six years) seem oddly hollow, unflattering to the orchestra. In sum, a disc valuable for content rather than a unified display of Straussian opulence. Max Loppert