An intelligent and beautifully clear British soprano singing Strauss apparently without effort. She's at the start of what should be a great career, very ably supported by a superb accompanist. In a way it put me in mind of the great Janet Baker's Frauenliebe und Leben: utterly different voice, but huge musical and emotional intelligence promising really great things.
This artfully programmed debut Lieder recital has something in common with Schumann’s "Frauenliebe und Leben", in that it leads us via a compilation of twenty-three songs on a journey through life from youth, longing, passion, partnership, motherhood and loss to death and “release”. It is unfortunately compromised by the lack of texts and translations, surely essential to a proper appreciation of the lovely songs, which were written between 1895 and 1918 and are mostly the product of Strauss’ early maturity. However, at least we are given excellent guidance notes provided by Joanna Wyld.
Louise Alder, currently a member of the Frankfurt Opera, was the winner of the Audience Prize at the 2017 Cardiff Singer of the World competition and has recently made a name for herself as a superb Sophie at the Proms and on tour in the Welsh National Opera’s "Der Rosenkavalier". I was recently privileged to hear her in that role at the Birmingham Hippodrome and was enchanted by both her singing and stage presence; I was therefore surprised to find that the microphone in this excellent recording catches something of an edge in the top of her voice which was not apparent to me live, where her voice emerged as bright but not shrill. That apart, her exemplary German diction, pure, long-breathed line and clear identification with the emotional import of the poetry all serve her very well here. She is by no means the first singer to present these songs; many of them have understandably been favourites with great artists such as Gundula Janowitz, Barbara Hendricks, Jessye Norman, Simon Keenlyside, Renée Fleming and Jonas Kaufmann – with whose 2005 recital this has ten songs in common. She has clearly and wisely made a careful selection designed to avoid tackling those songs which need a bigger, fuller sound than that which she currently possesses. Inextricably wedded as I am to the languorous beauty of Beverly Sills’ lush, rapturous version of “Breit über mein Haupt”, the account here sounds almost perfunctory, but Sills is accompanied by Julius Rudel in a full orchestral arrangement, whereas Alder, like Kaufmann, employs the conventional piano accompaniment, which is no doubt closer to what the composer intended and cannot be taken as slowly. The delicacy of Alder’s lyric soprano matches the songs chosen very well; she maintains a fine, light line, even if, again, just occasionally, the tone hardens in alt. Given the vivid way in which she enlivens words, I wonder why I do not find her voice to have as much personality or “face” as favourite recitalists but that is merely a personal reaction.
Jospeh Middleton’s pianism is exemplary, as is the recorded sound.
I think it a pity that the singer’s own thanks and dedication to those who have helped her on her way to stardom resort to the customary yoofspeak hyperbole by calling them “incredible, brilliant and amazing” – but her gratitude otherwise sounds sincere.
[This review is also posted on the MusicWeb International website]
I heard this on BBC record review on the day of its release. They played Die Nacht and Befreit. I knew I had to have it and that this is a very special disc. There have been many recordings devoted exclusively to Strauss songs by leading vocalists in the last decade: Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Christine Kharg amongst others. Plus of course generations of recordings dating from Strauss' own recordings with Heinrich Schlusnus back in 1918 (including Die Nacht and other songs included in this CD).
However, I think Louise Alder brings something new, her voice and a deep understanding of Strauss' music. Her voice is crystal clear and yet able to convey emotion, able to move around with precise expression. Her interpretation of Strauss has benefitted from her recent experience as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier (I saw her at Cardiff). I think like Renee Flemming she will have a life long relationship with Strauss and move through the roles from Salome to the Marschallin in her future career.
The collection if songs is fairly standard: all from the golden period of Strauss lieder writing, two decades from 1885-1905, with the one exception of "Enerlei" from 1918. They are sung in such a way that the inner meaning of the songs is brought out, not just the musical beauty. This is what attracted me to them on first hearing. It has most of my personal favourites: along with Die Nacht and Befreit, Das Rosenband, Leises Lied. It also the concert favourites Ruhe Meine Seele, Zueignung, Standchen, Allerseelen and Heimliche Aufforderung. Some of the interpretations are quite unique. Standchen is a quiet and restrained song, as if the lover is trying to avoid waking the parents and not the spirited exhortation as usual.
The accompaniment is also excellent: Alder and Joseph Middleton go together well. I can recommend this CD to any lover of Strauss songs. This is the first recording of a very promising singer with a lot of talent! I look forward to her exploring some of the less well known parts of the Strauss repertoire and longer songs: fruhlingsfeiere, Notturno, des dichters abendgang.
This is a beautiful recital of some of Strauss's finest songs grouped under headings suggested by the disc's title, very well recorded in the warm acoustic of Potton Hall in Suffolk. I just wish the presentation were better. At full price we are surely entitled to the sung texts with English translations; all we get are some sketchy notes. The track lists lack opus numbers, which are important reference points, and only some of them are mentioned in the notes. I think the performers deserve better editorial support than this. A fine achievement nonetheless.