Strauss, Ravel

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COMPOSERS: Ravel,Strauss
WORKS: Vier letzte Lieder; Closing Scene from Capriccio; Shéhérazade
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Söderström (soprano); RPO/Antal Dorati, BBC SO/Pierre Boulez, RLPO/John Pritchard
It’s always worth remembering that Richard Strauss thought of his Four Last Songs as an exultant celebration of life rather than as a melancholy valediction. Elisabeth Söderström is entirely faithful to this vision. The overriding impression of this live Festival Hall performance from 1976 is of her enraptured sense of engagement with both the music and her audience. This is a human drama of flesh and blood: her ‘Frühling’ (Spring) has the heat of midsummer and, as the soul transmigrates in ‘Beim Schlafengehen’, her voice rises up on fast-beating eagle’s wings. With all this expenditure of energy, there is less poise and fine nuancing than in Soile Isokoski’s outstanding performance (Ondine), and both more breaks for breath and fewer subtle shifts of mood and awareness than in Felicity Lott’s benchmark version. The RPO with Antal Dorati is on the heavy, over-ripe side, unlike the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Pierre Boulez who, in a noisily live Prom performance from 1971, accompany Söderström in a physically vibrant performance of Ravel’s Shéhérazade. The real wonders of this disc are to be found in Söderström’s Mozart with John Pritchard from way back in 1960. As Figaro’s Countess, she brings the dignity and grief of a truly great heart to ‘Porgi amor’, and the range of emotions she expresses in the distraught recitative to ‘Dove sono’ is thrilling indeed. Hilary Finch