'Schwanewilms sings the three Ophelia songs of 1918, masterly depictions of a deranged mind and among Strauss's finest achievements in this genre. The soprano calls on her operatic experience in a vivid performance … Her singing of such favourites as 'Traum durch die Dämmerung' supports the claim that she is one of the leading Strauss singers of the new generation, and the rare 'Blindenklage' is given a marvellously dramatic and insightful performance. Roger Vignoles's accompaniments (and his sleeve notes) are superlative' (Sunday Telegraph)
'It's hard to dispute Roger Vignoles's claim that Anne Schwanewilms is 'a great singing actress'. That's clear in every song, where both the overall tinta and the text have not just been scrupulously attended to in the head but are excitingly delivered with the heart … There's a real experience here, knowingly and profoundly communicated. Vignoles is, as always, an equal and fully 'worked-in' team member. As well as being an impressive achievement in itself, this recital is a timely addition to a catalogue currently rather short of female competition in these songs' (Gramophone)
'Anne Schwanewilms has the individuality and imagination to convey Ophelia's descent into madness, fully supported by Roger Vignoles. The partnership is on fine form throughout this album, which equally serves the cause of neglected treasures and essential Strauss masterworks' (Classic FM Magazine)
'If Christine Brewer, odalisque of the Oriental numbers on Hyperion's first volume of Strauss songs, is the fullest Straussian soprano voice currently making recordings, Schwanewilms' is surely the most sheerly beautiful, ideal for the 'silvery radiance' Roger Vignoles mentions in his excellent liner notes. This recital is the first Strauss disc she has had to herself. but we already know her lumnious legato from the disc of Strauss orchestral songs she made with Mark Elder on the Hallé label … More revelatory is the way Schwanewilms' uncanny ability to change colour within a single note lends a strange beauty to the more disquieting songs … If the rest of Hyperion's series is anything like this one, it should win all sorts of awards' (BBC Music Magazine)
'Schwanewilms sings Das Rosenband with an easy grace that disguises her iron technique, and Waldseligkeit as if to prove that there are few purer excitements than the long-held note' (The Times)
'Not even Felicity Lott with Graham Johnson can match Anne Schwanewilms and Roger Vignoles here in the Drei Lieder der Ophelia … By any yardstick this is magnificent singing, with Schwanewilms always alert to the dramatic potential in so many of Strauss's songs. Listen to 'Blindenklage', that rarity from the Op 56 songs of 1906, transformed into a miniature opera with the piano even playing woodwind! Or even better, the extraordinary setting of Nikolaus Lenau's 'O wärst du mein!' from 1891. As Vignoles observes in his note in the booklet that accompanies this CD, in Strauss's hands Lenau's poem becomes a kind of 'operatic scena'. Schwanewilms relishes the challenge: the beat in her voice on 'vergeben' at the end of the last line of the first verse when the poet refuses to 'forgive his fate' is heart-stopping … Again you admire the effortless partnership between the two musicians, each, it seems, hanging on the other's last word and always raising the musical bar. This second volume of the Complete Strauss songs suggests we are at the start of another remarkable Hyperion journey ' (International Record Review)
'The German soprano Anne Schwanewilms has a deep understanding of the complexity and layering of Strauss songs. Roger Vignoles, meanwhile, accompanies with his usual skill, never overshadowing his partner' (Scotland on Sunday)
'Schwanewilms' crystal voice is perfectly suited to the works as she shapes each phrase with heartfelt feeling. From the opening 'Die Nacht' on, every song is a gem' (Northern Echo)
'A highly rewarding recital, then, which will certainly enhance the reputation of this soprano and ought to broaden the repertoire of Strauss’s songs which are heard in the recital-room' (ClassicalSource.com)
'This remarkable German soprano takes us on some giddy flights with superb breath control and a quite amazing concentration of vocal energy. But she never loses sight of the text. Even when the musical notes are long and sustained, as in Strauss’s setting of Richard Dehmal’s poem Waldseligkeit, you can hear every word. This is the second disc in a series from Hyperion that will eventually include all of Strauss’s songs, over two hundred of them. The first, with the American soprano Christine Brewer, has already been well received. But this one’s even better, an absolute must for admirers of Strauss and German lieder alike. The collection starts with Die Nacht, composed in 1885 when Strauss was 21. One of music history’s best kept secrets is that Strauss wrote as many lieder as he did, many of them little masterpieces rarely heard in the concert hall, if at all. In this respect he’s similar to Liszt, whose many wonderful songs are also neglected. But at least singers have always been more than eager to perform Strauss, particularly his operas, which makes it all the more remarkable that his songs have been ignored as much as they have been, except of course for a very few that appear in recitals with monotonous regularity. Are they really all that good? Yes they are … Hyperion I gather is planning six more CDs of Strauss songs. I can’t wait' (CD Review, BBC Radio 3)
'The lyric soprano voice of Anne Schwanewilms proves as well suited to Strauss's songs as it has to his more elegant operatic heroines' (Financial Times)
'Schwanewilms never makes an ugly sound. Her cool 'young heroic' voice takes on particular purity and sheen at soft dynamics, yet shines with bright metal at full volume. She and Vignoles excel in dreamy moods … This thoughtful issue blends such beloved fare with virtually unknown songs' (Time Out New York)
'Schwanewilms gives fully authoritative performances of these demanding songs, which showcases her seamless, organically flowing sound and most excellent diction... this disc is worth hearing repeatedly in order to savor these sophisticated, ravishing pieces many if which are rarely heard. Schwanewilms and Vignoles explore this repertoire with an uncommonly unified conception' (Opera News, USA)
Strauss’s Drei Lieder der Ophelia have an inauspicious genesis. They were dashed off (together with three settings from Goethe’s Bücher des Unmuts—The Books of Bad Temper) in the throes of a legal battle with his publisher. Clearly Strauss hoped that three mad songs and three bad-tempered songs would represent a suitably poisoned chalice for his arch-enemy. But in the case of the three mad songs, they have proved highly effective in the concert hall, especially when performed by a great singing actress such as Anne Schwanewilms, whose dramatic and vocal gifts are highlighted in this, the second volume of the complete Strauss Lieder.
The selection begins, like Volume One, in the familiar territory of Opus 10, and proceeds chronologically through to the Ophelia-Lieder, on the way taking in many songs that will be less well known—if they are known at all. Highlights among them should certainly be the impassioned and dramatic O wärst du mein!, the delightful miniatures of Weißer Jasmin and Wiegenliedchen, the two Alsatian folksongs, and not least the remarkable Blindenklage.
Anne Schwanewilms is one of the greatest Strauss sopranos on the opera stage today, performing many major roles under Simon Rattle, Colin Davis, Andrew Davis, Semyon Bychkov and Mark Elder. This is her debut recording for Hyperion.
Other recommended albums
There can be few musical masterpieces, even minor ones, that owe their origin to a publishing dispute, but Strauss’s Drei Lieder der Ophelia can rightfully claim that distinction. The story is connected with, and partly explains, the lengthy hiatus in his song-writing between 1906 and 1918. These were busy years in the theatre for Strauss: he produced Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten. But they were also years during which Strauss became an active campaigner for composers’ rights, especially of course his own.
During the nineteenth century, composers were expected on publication to surrender almost all rights to their music, a situation that became increasingly irksome to Strauss as his fame increased. In 1898 he founded, with two partners, the Society of German composers, to protect and further composers’ rights, and it became the precursor of similar societies all over the world. In time the publishers attempted to hit back by establishing a rival organization, and it so happens that one of their leading members was Bote & Bock, the publishers of the Sinfonia Domestica, to whom Strauss had also assigned the Opus 56 songs, published in 1906. Unfortunately, in the contract for Opus 56, he had unwisely allowed a clause to be included giving Bote & Bock the rights to his next group of songs whenever they might be composed.
Strauss was understandably reluctant to hand over anything of worth, and procrastinated as long as he could. Finally in 1918, threatened with legal action by Bote & Bock, he tried to fob them off with Krämerspiegel, a satirical song cycle scurrilously lampooning the publishing profession. When this ruse failed, he hastily composed three Ophelia songs and three settings of poems from Goethe’s Buch des Unmuts (The ‘Book of Bad Temper’), which were published together as Opus 67. Clearly Strauss hoped that three mad songs and three bad-tempered songs would represent a suitably poisoned chalice for his arch-enemy. But in the case of the three mad songs, they have proved highly effective in the concert hall, especially when performed by a great singing actress such as Anne Schwanewilms, whose dramatic and vocal gifts are highlighted in this, the second volume of the complete Strauss Lieder.
The selection begins, like the first volume, in the familiar territory of Opus 10, and proceeds chronologically through to the Ophelia-Lieder, on the way taking in many songs that will be less well known, if known at all. Highlights among them should certainly be the impassioned and dramatic O wärst du mein!, the delightful miniatures of Weißer Jasmin and Wiegenliedchen, the two Alsatian folk songs, and not least the remarkable Blindenklage.
Roger Vignoles © 2007
Other albums in this series
Strauss: The Complete Songs, Vol. 6 – Elizabeth Watts
Studio Master: CDA67844 Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available