David Nice
BBC Music Magazine
May 2015

This is the latest instalment of Roger Vignole's excellent Strauss project, there may not be the same mix of the celebrated and the unfamiliar as you will have found on most of the other discs, but the pleasures are manifold. Even ardent Straussians won't know many of the songs in the mix of juvenilia not included in Dietrich Fischer-Diskau's six-CD set, epigrammatic Goethe settings and three later oddities. It was a lovely idea to start with a Christmas miniature from 1899 and follow it up with the six-year-old Strauss's carol (1870) presumably harmonised by mama or papa. Not that baritone Günter Haumer gets us off to the best of starts: this is a voice too unsteady to do justice to the famous legato, though better is to come in more declamatory later numbers.

Ruby Hughes, though, is a delight, pure lyric-soprano transparency for the often folksy simplicity of young Richard, who even in his early teens was up to the off harmonic trick.

Tenor Ben Johnson takes the more ambitious ballad-like numbers with their numerous changes of mood an piano writing. Strauss, it seems was always adept at providing a good accompanying flow, reaching a playful apogee in the 1900 tale of seven drinking companions on a mountain jaunt. By this stage Johnson has really come out of his shell to relish the operatic narrative of which we know he's capable, backed up by no-nonsense virtuosity from Vignoles. A special bonus is Ed Lockwood's French horn in the early 'Alphorn', set back to sound as if he's calling to Hughes from the valley.