'Duffy's is a bright, light soprano with a stylish sense of phrasing and some rapturous top Bs in her armoury … It's fun to hear [Vignoles] exuberantly unleash chromatic tricks and sideslips in 'Mein Auge' and at the halfway mark in 'Herr Lenz' (BBC Music Magazine)
'Roger Vignoles is very impressive indeed, readily catching the mood of each item and particularly sensitive in each song's beautifully conceived postlude … Both artists are equally impressive in the strongly characterised 'Junghexenlied'. Kiera Duffy is also appealing in the gentler songs' (Gramophone)
Säusle, liebe Myrthe! [4'28]
A further instalment of this major Hyperion project introduces the American soprano Kiera Duffy, whose performances in the concert hall and on the opera stage have received the highest praise.
This series, skilfully masterminded by the accompanist Roger Vignoles, is carefully shaped around the talents of each singer and strives to serve the cause of both neglected treasures and essential Strauss masterworks. The majority of the music in this beautifully shaped recital was composed between 1888 and 1900, with the exception of the glorious and virtuosic Op 68 Brentano-Lieder, which owes its richness and fluency to the composer’s experience of opera composition.
Duffy gives an impeccable performance, revealing a deep understanding of the complexity of the music, and tackles the final expansive Lied der Frauen with unwavering stamina and faultless intonation. Perceptive booklet notes from Vignoles, and full texts and translations are also included.
Other recommended albums
The years 1906 to 1918 marked a long hiatus in the song composition of Richard Strauss. Following the sensational appearance of Salome in 1905 he was busy consolidating his position as the most important opera composer of the new century, with the premieres of Elektra in 1908, Der Rosenkavalier in 1910 and the two versions of Ariadne auf Naxos in 1912 and 1916 respectively. It was only after he had completed the score of Die Frau ohne Schatten in 1917 that he began to find time to return to the Lied. The Op 68 Brentano-Lieder collection was to be his most significant cycle of songs until the creation of the Vier letzte Lieder thirty years later.
Clemens Brentano (1778–1842) was a notable figure in the German Romantic movement, an associate among others of Wieland, Herder, Goethe and Schlegel. Restless and unconventional by nature, he spent some years wandering the countryside with his guitar on his back like a medieval minstrel. His close and lifelong friendship with Achim von Arnim, who married his sister Bettina, provided some stability, and created the work for which they are both best known, the collection of German folk poetry known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Strauss himself set three poems from that collection, including Hat gesagt—bleibt’s nicht dabei (see track 7), but no doubt recognizing that Gustav Mahler had already achieved all that was possible in this field, he turned in 1918 to six of Brentano’s original poems. Inspired by their highly charged imagery, he produced not only some of his most virtuoso vocal writing, but a series of intricately woven piano accompaniments that clearly owe their richness and fluency to his many years of writing for the opera orchestra.
Although Strauss is known to have had Elisabeth Schumann in mind for the Brentano-Lieder, she only performed the entire cycle on one occasion, in 1922. This is not surprising, since whereas the four central songs seem tailor-made for her clear, light soprano, in the first and last songs Strauss appears to have been thinking of a completely different cast of voice. In particular Lied der Frauen with its stormy texture and epic scale—at sixteen pages it is twice as long as any of the other songs—suggests a voice of far greater heft and stamina than is usually found among coloratura sopranos, and can easily lead to balance problems in the orchestral version. On the other hand, as Strauss’s biographer Norman del Mar points out, it is worth remembering that Strauss’s first Marschallin was also his first Zerbinetta.
A final background detail—the years to 1918 were also those in which Strauss became increasingly embattled with his publishers Bote & Bock, having unwisely signed an agreement in 1906 to give them his next set of songs. Given the high quality of the Brentano-Lieder it is not surprising that he chose to keep them in his bottom drawer, offering instead the satirical cycle Krämerspiegel and—when this was rejected—the Ophelia-Lieder.
Apart from the Brentano-Lieder, this volume comprises fifteen songs for high voice composed between 1888 and 1900. It begins with the four Mädchenblumen Op 22 to texts by Felix Dahn, who also provided the verses for Schlichte Weisen Op 21. Although lacking the obvious charm and immediacy of the latter group, their rather literary sensibility and refined outlines seem to look forward to the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau, an aesthetic that derived its decorative motifs almost entirely from floral imagery. If one can get beyond the slightly sentimental, if not patronizing mindset inherent in comparing girls to particular flowers—in which Dahn’s verses have something of the professorial—the songs themselves deserve better than the comparative neglect with which they have generally been treated (to which admittedly their high tessitura has probably contributed). The complete set was dedicated to Hans Giessen, principal tenor at the Weimar Court Opera to which Strauss was appointed in 1889, and a regular performer of Strauss’s Lieder with the composer himself at the piano.
Roger Vignoles © 2011
Other albums in this series
Strauss: The Complete Songs, Vol. 6 – Elizabeth Watts
Studio Master: CDA67844 Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available