Melba Recordings

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MusicWeb International (UK)
Raymond J Walker

This disc is one of four Australian vocal CDs providing high-class yet rarely recorded music. It is newly released in the UK [2001]

During his lifetime Richard Strauss wrote around two hundred songs, many bound as Lieder albums (hence some songs using the same opus number on this disc). They were usually composed with certain singers in mind, his wife being the most notable. They are taxing to the singer and require good breath control to cope with the extended phrasing. In today’s colleges they continue to be part of a singer’s curriculum and are popular as a result.

The lieder on this disc begin at Op. 10, (the commencement of Strauss’s period of mature lieder composition). His aunt, Johanna Pschorr, herself a singer of quality, encouraged him with his writing. He met his wife, Pauline de Ahna in 1887 who soon joined his opera company at Weimar where she went on to sing most of the leading soprano roles and created the heroine part of his first opera Guntram (1894). They got married in 1895. This was a year in which she sang Elisabeth in Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Bayreuth.

In Strauss’s lieder, the accompaniment is particularly rich and some charming orchestral effects are achieved, whether these are originally orchestrated by Strauss, or later by Heger. Many of the songs are available in different keys hence reference to the key signature on the disc. The choice of lieder covers a wide variety of Straussian styles and Davislim shows good versatility to the changing needs of the scores.

Strauss said that he liked his songs the best of all his music. As songs, many are strong operatic numbers that are well handled both vocally by Davislim and orchestrally by Young.

The song Heimliche Aufforderung (Secret Invitation) is one of a volume of four given to Pauline on their wedding day. It refers to a secret sign which the lovers wait to receive for their tryst in the garden. It is, of course, a man’s song and, although the notes don’t make reference to it, will have been a song Richard sang to his wife, hence its inclusion in the wedding set. It was not orchestrated until a year before Strauss’s death in 1948.

The Opus 10 Lieder album contains Strauss’s most popular songs, one of which is Allerseelen (All Souls’ Day), a wistfully tender song which expresses both nostalgia and hope. It was orchestrated by Heger in 1932.

Ständchen (Serenade) is a particularly charming song, so much so that it was orchestrated as early as 1912. It is a light and breezy piece reminiscent of Schubert and carries a good melody with water-rippling accompaniment provided by fluttering woodwind.

Written by the poet Henckell, Ruhe meine Seele is a darker yet mystically airy piece and although set by Strauss the orchestration could have come from the pen of Wagner, perhaps.

The well known, Morgen (Tomorrow) is believed to be one of Strauss’s most beautiful songs. Its rapturous and dreamy evocation of love’s bliss with harp ornament is quite enchanting. The orchestration by Strauss is one of his earliest, dating from 1897 (two years after the lied was written) and includes a delicate counter-melody provided by solo violin.

Zueignung (Dedication) is another from the Opus 10 set and is an ecstatic outpouring from one who ‘drank in joyous freedom’. Although orchestrated in 1932 by Heger, Strauss reorchestrated it in 1940 for soprano Viorica Ursuleac in appreciation of her excellent singing in his opera, Die ägyptische Helena. (The recording on the disc is Heger’s but the reason for this choice is not provided in the notes.)

Traum durch die Dammerung (Dream in the twilight) is a kind of lullaby, which uses a haunting melody line. The phrasing is handled well by Davislim. The piece was orchestrated again by Heger in 1932 as is the next piece.

Composed for his wife, Ich trage meine Minne (I carry my Love) is a song where the title speaks for itself.

Liebeshymnus is another song written for Strauss’s wife, Pauline, and has an early orchestration provided by Strauss again. A heartfelt melody over an accompaniment of pulsing block harmonies matches the exultation of the lyrics ‘Hail to the day when first I beheld you’.

The title of the disc comes from this song, Verfuhrung (Seduction) which is one of a set of four Strauss composed with orchestra in mind. These songs are larger and more operatic than his other Lieder and the orchestra somewhat symphonic in treatment. Davislim handles the material superbly.

Das Rosenband (The Rose Garland) is a setting of a poem by Klopstock, used previously by Schubert. It was first sung by Pauline, yet the words are more appropriate to be sung by a man and suit this tenor recording well.

Strauss’s skill in writing is at its very best in Befreit (Set Free) yet the poet, Dehmel thought the music too ‘soft grained’ Experts would not agree.

Another Dehmel poem was used in Wiegenlied (Cradle Song) which was a favourite with Pauline. She gave the first orchestral performance. It contains a moving melody, one of Strauss’s simplest and loveliest that includes a delightful orchestral accompaniment.

A tender love song is Freundliche Vision (Friendly Vision), one which carries warm harmonies and soft-toned colours. The orchestration by Strauss dates from 1918.

Waldseligkeit (Woodland Bliss) is dedicated to ‘my beloved wife’ and again a setting of a poem by Dehmel. A heavy murmuring drone of bass strings contrasts nicely with the light vocal line.

Die heiligen drei Konige aus Morganland (The Three Holy Kings from the East) is one of Strauss’s few religious songs. It as written for voice and orchestra and is dedicated to Strauss’s mother who was a deeply devout Christian. A long introduction for lower strings describes the Three Kings’ wanderings. The star (Celeste) guides them to Bethlehem and we hear the ox’s bellowing and Christ Child crying.

The disc includes two operatic extracts as a finale: The opera, Capriccio contains some enchanting Moonlight music, including a charming piano melody borrowed from a 1918 song cycle (Krämerspiegel). Der Rosenkavalier’s second Waltz suite needs no introduction. Here it is lovingly played by the State Orchestra of Victoria.

Steve Davislim is an Australian who began his musical training as a horn player and studied singing at the Victorian College of Arts with Dame Joan Hammond. He also studied with a number of notable Australian singing teachers and was twice awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Award. He has travelled widely and as guest artist has appeared at Hamburg Opera, Opéra de Lausanne and the Viennese Schönbrunn Mozart Festival, to name just a few. In this performance he sings confidently and with clarity: his tone is appealing and he is sensitive to the dynamics of the material. In some of the songs there are particularly long phrases which test the breath control of the singer: whilst others are taxing to the singer’s register. Davislim handles such demands with ease and grace.

Simone Young is little heard of as a conductor in the UK yet we should remember her British debut at Covent Garden in 1994: she is in fact one of the leading Australian conductors of her generation. She made her debut at Sydney Opera House in 1985 and in 1987 went to Cologne Opera as conductor. She went on to assist Barenboim at Bayreuth with The Ring and has enjoyed a wealth of international engagements. On this disc she handles the forces extremely competently and gives an excellent performance.

Usefully, the booklet contains the lyrics clearly set out in German, English, and French. The notes on Strauss and the pieces are understandably compressed due to the space needed for the lyrics of every song. This is another first class recording from Melba, a good compilation and well produced.