WORKS: Vier letzte Lieder; Wesendonck Lieder; Prelude und Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
PERFORMER: Cheryl Studer (soprano)Dresden Staatskapelle/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 439 865-2 DDD
Cheryl Studer is up against formidable competition with her recording of Strauss’s Four Last Songs: from Schwarzkopf to Popp, Norman to Te Kanawa. She may not have the opulent tone of a Jessye Norman, nor are her high notes quite effortless, but hers is a voice of expressive beauty edged with steel, that sounds thrilling in full flight. Studer is also more attentive than some of her eminent rivals to the poetic colouring and nuances of the texts. In ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ (‘Going to Sleep’), for example, the sense of world-weariness is superbly conveyed, with long, languid lines drawn out exquisitely. Sinopoli’s accompaniments make pictorial points nicely too (rain falling, leaves dropping) and lend a warm glow and often powerful surge. In the final analysis, though, the conducting lacks the firm control, the stature, of the greatest interpreters.
Sinopoli’s sententious tendencies threaten to over-inflate Wagner’s more modest Wesendonck Lieder: songs like ‘Schmerzen’ (‘Sorrows’) and ‘Im Treibhaus’ (‘In the Greenhouse’) can’t really take this degree of portentousness. Studer, on the other hand, is more successful than most singers in this set, capturing the sense of rapt contemplation to perfection. The Wesendonck Lieder are closely connected with Tristan und Isolde, the opera Wagner was working on at the time of his liaison with Mathilde Wesendonck. It is fitting, therefore, to have the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan – the latter strongly sung by Studer – completing the programme. Barry Millington