Notes and Editorial Reviews
Even if the disc were not as good as it is, the beginning of this series would still be welcome, since Richard Strauss, like Hugo Wolf, has never been accorded a complete song edition. The closest was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who did it twice, once for EMI with Gerald Moore and, much later, for Deutsche Grammophon with Wolfgang Sawallisch. As fine a singer as the great German baritone was, however, Strauss, more than virtually any other composer you might care to name, was in love with the soprano voice, and no set of recordings that does not reflect this lifelong love affair is going to be able to give us a vital part of Strauss’s magic as a song composer. Christine Brewer is a fine choice for this first disc in what is expected to be a
total of eight or nine CDs. She is a dramatic soprano, weighted towards the upper end of her voice, not unlike Deborah Voigt—Jessye Norman represents the other version of this voice type, being essentially a mezzo with a long top and the voice correspondingly weighted towards the bottom of its range. Brewer has excellent facility for a voice this large, and, if the top is a tad cutting, for the most part she uses it extremely well and balances it with the rest of her voice so there is very little sense of strain. She also manages to project her words well, something not to be taken for granted in music this difficult.
There are a number of recital favorites here, starting with a slow but otherwise beautifully sung Zueignung, for once not sung as an encore. Among the rarities is a genuine find in the Gesänge des Orients, op. 77, written right after Dei äegyptische Helena. Nominally written for a tenor, the five songs were in fact dedicated to Elizabeth Schumann and are glorious in Brewer’s and Vignoles’s hands. Murderously high (the final song ends on a high C), with one of the composer’s most extravagant piano parts, these songs capture much of the special magic of late Strauss. Also very special is Frühlingsfeier from the Heine settings of op. 56. The rest of the recital predates Salome and captures the composer at his freshest. Even early on, Strauss demanded of his singers complete evenness and freedom throughout a very considerable range. His piano parts are among the most demanding this side of Rachmaninoff. Those challenges are met head on here, and one is already impatient for the arrival of Volume 2. Full texts with translation are given, of course, and concise but informative notes from Vignoles. This recital is a gift not to be missed.
John Story, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Gesänge des Orients (5), Op. 77 by Richard Strauss
Roger Vignoles (Piano),
Christine Brewer (Soprano)
Written: 1928; Vienna, Austria
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