Hyperion’s Strauss Lieder series is fast becoming a worthy successor to the seminal Schubert and Schumann Lieder sets on the label. This fourth volume features a veteran of these recordings, the great British baritone Christopher Maltman. Five songs are performed by the wonderfully versatile operatic bass Alastair Miles.
Contrary to a commonly held perception of Strauss as a Lieder composer, what most of the songs in the present volume show is that he was not shy of addressing serious themes. Settings of Rückert, Dehmel, Goethe and others are tinged with a dark regret which is enhanced by their bass tessitura. Strauss the opera composer is evident in the epic scale of the lieder written post-Salome. Roger Vignoles provides his famous extensive booklet notes, with commentary about each individual song and scholarly discourse on the poetry.
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Among Richard Strauss’s poets, three in particular stand out: Adolf von Schack (1815–1894), Richard Dehmel (1863–1920) and Karl Henckell (1864–1929). Von Schack was the subject of an early enthusiasm, providing the texts for sixteen out of the seventeen songs that comprise his Opus 15, 17 and 19 sets. With Dehmel and Henckell, Strauss’s engagement was less concentrated, but ran to ten songs by each, including many of the most famous and well-loved—Wiegenlied, Befreit and Waldseligkeit from Dehmel; Ruhe, meine Seele! and Ich trage meine Minne from Henckell.
Graf Adolf von Schack was a wealthy establishment figure, a patron of the arts whose Munich home boasted a fine collection of paintings. By contrast, although one would not guess it from most of the poems by each that Strauss chose to set, both Dehmel and Henckell were young firebrands, members of a group that not only rejected the sentimentality of mid-nineteenth-century poetry, but openly espoused socialistic views and compassion for the underdog. In the case of Henckell, his proletarian poetry was considered so inflammatory that it was banned in Germany, with the result that he emigrated to Switzerland. Dehmel, himself the son of a gamekeeper, was notorious for his verses on sexual liberation and attacks on puritanical contemporaries, and even stood trial on obscenity charges. A cult figure among the younger generation, by the early twentieth century he was considered Germany’s leading contemporary poet.
Whether or not Strauss sympathized with the socialistic views of Dehmel and Henckell, his attraction to poems like Der Arbeitsmann and Lied des Steinklopfers was probably as much musical as political. He knew a good subject for music when he saw it, and the opera composer in him clearly relished the opportunity to portray a couple of picturesque figures from the working class. Likewise the stormy background to Dehmel’s Lied an meinen Sohn gave him the chance to deploy all his most dramatic orchestral effects to exhilarating effect. To hear all three songs is essential to a properly rounded assessment of Strauss as a Lieder composer, especially if one also adds in the exquisite Am Ufer, a miniature masterpiece by any standards.
Contrary to a commonly held perception of Strauss as a Lieder composer, what most of the songs recorded in the present volume show is that he was not shy of addressing serious themes. This is especially true of the three Rückert songs of Opus 87. (The fourth song, Erschaffen und Beleben, a setting of Goethe from his West-östlicher Divan, was composed separately and added later for the complete edition, presumably by way of light relief.) All are tinged with a real regret that may have in part been inspired by Strauss’s own advancing years. Having said that, their mood (and bass tessitura) had already been anticipated in the magnificent Im Spätboot composed twenty-three years previously in 1906, and even arguably in the noble resignation of the Michelangelo Madrigal of 1886 with which this recording opens.
Roger Vignoles © 2009
Other albums in this series
Strauss: The Complete Songs, Vol. 6 – Elizabeth Watts
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