Notes and Editorial Reviews
2014 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, born on June 11, 1864. Deutsche Grammophon marks the occasion with this 33-CD set of the fifteen complete operas by the composer, from
Guntram (1893) to
Capriccio (1941). Brimming with some of the greatest and most critically acclaimed Strauss recordings of the last 50 years, the set includes both beloved favorites and striking rarities. The collection also contains highly researched documentation, including a Strauss operas timeline and a new essay by Nigel Simeone. It is presented in luxurious, eye-catching packaging which depicts various scenes from
Salome by an unknown artist (“Kailich”) from 1927.
Arabella with Lisa della Casa and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Elektra with Birgit Nilsson
Three of the classic Karl Böhm recordings:
Die schweigsame Frau
Intermezzo with Lucia Popp
Rosenkavalier with Régine Crespin, Yvonne Minton, and Helen Donath
Salome with Cheryl Studer and Bryn Terfel
Also included is a bonus CD of Jessye Norman’s classic recording of the
Four Last Songs and Orchestrated Songs with Kurt Masur and the Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig.
R E V I E W S:
"It is a performance cherishable not only for the shining silvery tone [of della Casa] but also for a touching warmth of feeling... Fischer-Dieskau's rough country fellow sometimes softens movingly in a sweetness not quite matched in the 1981 performance ("Das ist emn Fall von andrer Art", nobly sincere in the Sawallisch recording, is ravishingly lyrical here). Good work from the Zdenka and Waldner are further assets..." – Gramophone [11/1985]
Ariadne auf Naxos
"What a pity that this is Giuseppe Sinopoli's valedictory; it leaves us to imagine how glorious the rest of his Strauss opera readings may've been. Here, in the composer's most transparent, un-sentimental score, Sinopoli gets playing from the Dresden forces that makes everything Strauss and Hoffmansthal were driving at absolutely clear... This Ariadne goes to the top of the list--recommended to all lovers of Strauss and great singing, and, possibly, the performance that might convert non-Ariadne lovers to true fans." – Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com [11/20/2001]
"...Janowitz is a shade cooler [than Elisabeth Schwarzkopf], a more objective aristocrat but she is the singer who most often ravishes the ear with her singing, the Strauss soprano par excellence. Schwarzkopf's account of the Sonnet reprise seems one of the most sheerly beautiful pieces of Strauss singing on disc until you hear Janowitz tackle it, in its richer way just as lovely." – Gramophone [2/1996]
"This is Strauss's most lyrical opera and occupies a special place in the affections of his admirers. Böhm's unfolding of the marvellous orchestral score, from that first oboe melody to its final metamorphosis, is the work of a master-interpreter... Hilde Gueden's Daphne is a lovely performance, sung with an engaging innocence, as befits this mysterious heroine, but also with the soaring richness that the part requires in its most dramatic passages, such as the duet with Apollo, sung by James King with power and conviction... For tonal beauty, however, there is Wunderlich...making something exceptionally expressive out of every phrase." – Gramophone [10/1988]
"It is the raw power and demonic energy of Solti, Nilsson, Resnik, and the Vienna Philharmonic that make this 1961 set a true classic." – Henry Fogel, FANFARE
Die schweigsame Frau
"Hotter is again one of the stars of the 1959 Schweigsame Frau, an opera of which Böhm gave the premiere in 1936 under inauspicious circumstances (here he conducts it lightly, engagingly). As the noise-hating Sir Morosus, Hotter shows his amazing versatility (at this time he was also tackling Gurnemanz) and his ability to cope with the detail of Zweig's brilliant libretto, the wittiest and most amusing Strauss ever set. Hotter finds a calm, warm legato for the quiet solos that end Acts 2 and 3 and for the plaintive love duet with Aminta, so soon to make Morosus's life an obstreperous hell on earth, and the power for his outbursts of incontinent outrage. As Sir Henry, Morosus's equivocal nephew, Fritz Wunderlich discloses, for the first time at Salzburg, his sappy tone and immaculate style. His Aminta is the delightful Hilde Gueden, who sings the Norina-like part with charm and brilliance. Altogether we learn here why Strauss had such a deep affection for this piece." – Gramophone [11/1994]
"Alfred Dohnen's portrayal of the Commandant is magnificent; his impeccable German diction and grand nobility of phrase and tone (almost) makes us respect this order-following leader. Deborah Voigt sings Maria's music as if she knows it's the score's only hope--she's in grand voice and works with the text to try to make it all believable. Johan Botha's turn as a Piedmontese soldier is nice and Jon Villars makes the most of the Town's mayor. But the star is the late Giuseppe Sinopoli, who leads it all with great conviction, raising his Dresden forces to great heights. The sound is glorious. This recording is the one to get. (In that other review I presumed we'd never hear a better performance; I was wrong.)" – Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
"Sheer joy... The role of Christine is a gift to a lyric soprano and is marvellously characterized by Lucia Popp, neither too shrewish nor too soft-grained and conveying her irresistible attraction for her husband, Robert Storch (alias Strauss). The latter role is forcefully sung by Fischer-Dieskau and there are excellent portrayals by the rest of the cast, especially from Adolf Dallapozza as Baron Lummer. But the prime pleasure in this technically brilliant recording—every word and note crystal-clear—is Sawallisch's comprehensive command of the opera and the flawless orchestral performance by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The interludes, miniature tone-poems in themselves, are sumptuously played." – Gramophone [1/1989]
"...one of the truly great recordings. Solti's conducting is refreshing, more champagne than schmaltz, yet not unduly driven, and his singers are superb, not just Crespin, Minton and Jungwirth (as Ochs) but the entire ensemble." – BBC Music Magazine [May 2008]
Review of entire box
Deutsche Grammophon’s 33-disc collection devoted to Richard Strauss’ complete operas draws upon live and studio recordings that span from 1952 to 2000, sequenced in alphabetical order. Actually, one should say “complete-ish”, since certain performances observe cuts ranging from minor nips and tucks to major slashing (Arabella’s third act, for instance). Two items purport to be first releases, but that’s not quite the case. The 1952 Salzburg broadcast of Strauss’ penultimate opera Die Liebe Der Danae a few weeks after its public world premiere was officially available on an Orfeo release that I have not heard. The sound quality is limited, yet you still can hear how Clemens Krauss and the Vienna Philharmonic dig into the lush harmonies and frothy orchestration at full tilt, abetted by wonderful singing from Paul Schöffer, Josef Traxel, and Annelies Kupper.
The other “first release”, Erich Leinsdorf’s 1978 Berlin broadcast of Feuersnot, came out on the Ponto label back in 2005. My colleague Robert Levine’s vivid synopsis can be found in his review of the 1986 Munich Radio Orchestra recording starring Bernd Weikl and Julia Varady. Leinsdorf’s comparably strong cast includes soprano Gundula Janowitz on top form in the role of Diemut (sample). Vocal considerations (especially Fritz Wunderlich’s presence) obviously influenced the choice of archival broadcast versions for Die Schweigsame Frau and Daphne, both conducted by Karl Böhm. However an underrated 1968 studio Capriccio with Janowitz and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau does better justice to this conductor’s first-hand Straussian credentials.
Another conductor who knew and worked with the composer, Georg Solti, is represented by three of his six Strauss opera studio recordings recently reissued by Decca. Elektra and Die Frau Ohne Schatten remain versions of reference. Solti’s Der Rosenkavalier is orchestrally impeccable and cast from strength (Regine Crespin’s sexy Marschallin, and Manfred Jungwirth’s noble, beautifully sung Ochs, for example), but I would have chosen instead the warmer, more flexible 1974 Edo De Waart Rotterdam Philips version, also recorded without cuts. While my colleague Robert Levine likes this recording less than I, we are in harmonious accord regarding Sinopoli’s Ariadne Auf Naxos and Friedenstag: both stunningly executed and engineered.
It’s good to reconnect with Sinopoli’s 1991 Salome. The Orchester de Deutschen Oper Berlin yields nothing to the competition, whether mixing and matching the Dance of the Seven Veils’ sultry colors or projecting the Final Scene’s roof-raising volume at full force yet without strain. Admittedly the veteran Leonie Rysanek is a bit wobbly as Herodias, but I forgot about Cheryl Studer’s agility and power in the title role. And Bryn Terfel’s booming John the Baptist proves marginally fresher than his Dohnányi/Vienna remake from a few years later. Lisa Della Casa is slightly past her prime in the live 1963 Bavarian State Opera Arabella under Joseph Keilberth (I prefer the uncut Solti and Tate Decca alternatives), but Gwyneth Jones is in her best vocal estate throughout Die Aegyptische Helena in a 1979 studio recording that captures the Antal Dorati/Detroit Symphony partnership at its zenith.
For Strauss’ first opera, Guntram, DG licensed Eve Queler’s 1984 CBS recording with the Hungarian State Orchestra. The text is presented in the composer’s 1940 revision, with a reworked libretto and about 30 minutes less music. Tenor Reiner Goldberg’s virile, stentorian portrayal of the title role remains the recording’s strongest asset and raison d’être. Intermezzo is represented by the Sawallisch recording that EMI recently reissued as part of its big box Richard Strauss: The Great Operas. Lastly, Disc 33 offers the Jessye Norman/Kurt Masur 1983 Vier letzte lieder coupled with selected orchestral songs—a classic and appropriate bonus. No librettos are included, but a 168-page booklet presents complete plot synopses, discographical credits, and a fine general essay by Nigel Simeone on Strauss’ operatic career.
– Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com