Whenever I need a Strauss fix, this is the first disc I turn to and it never fails to revive my drooping spirit. Recorded in late 1998, it brings together three absolutely beautiful but still very distinctive female voices, all of whom have timbres tailor-made to their roles: Fleming smoky and luscious with oboe-toned lower notes suggestive of the Marschallin's experience and maturity, Graham more open, impassioned and boyish as befits the breeches part of Octavian and Bonney silvery and soaring in girlish ecstasy to incarnate the feisty Sophie. Then we have the gorgeous playing of the VPO, elegant and responsive under Eschenbach's loving but flexible direction with plenty of - but not too many - drawn-out moments when we can linger over the multi-layered harmonies of this wondrous music. The suggestion of tears in Fleming's voice when she ponders the passing of time or the inevitability of Octavian leaving her one day is deeply moving without descending into mawkishness. The famous Trio is a slice of heaven: three impeccable sopranos soaring, entwining and over-lapping in a typically Straussian splurge of emotional outpouring.
I remember Renée Fleming talking about feeling inspired on hearing Helen Donath (I think it was) singing the final scene from "Capriccio" when she was a student in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship and promising herself that one day she would try to sing it as well as Donath - and her performance here is truly one to remember her by as she deploys all that is best and most attractive in her lyric soprano. She is careful to make her German sound idiomatic and expressive and depicts all the quirky humour, wry resignation and heartfelt confusion experienced by the Countess - and the introductory "Moonlight Music" is a master class in swooning orchestral indulgence; the horns are from another world.
The duet from "Arabella" allows us to hear more of Barbara's Bonney exquisitely pure, bell-like soprano; again the voices spiral heavenwards in "Aber der Richtiger" - surely one of the most memorable extended melodies Strauss ever wrote - like the two larks in Strauss's "Im Abendrot" from "Four Last Songs". Again and again the attentive listener will forget to breathe so absorbing is this miraculous singing.
It is of course delightful to hear the veteran, now late, bass-baritone Walter Berry in the cameo roles of Faninal and the Major Domo.
As you might by now have gathered, I rather like this disc. I wrote this review after a friend remarked that he was surprised that I hadn't registered my attachment to it on Amazon: job done.
after her singing of strauss' FOUR LAST SONGS and the closing scene of DAPHNE everyone has been waitng for some more richard strauss on disc by renee fleming. although the title is a bit misleading (with "heroines" one wuld rather expect elektra or salome...), the whole cd holds a very high standard in modern strauss-interpretation. renee fleming ranks very high in the beautiful-voice-factor and strauss, as a commited lover of the female voice, would have adored her singing. as said, it is overall wonderfully expressive, sometimes even mannered (every now and then there is a hint of elisabeth schwarzkopf in her interpretation of the marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER - but this is meant as a big compliment), while the voice itself always remains delicate and ruby-coloured. there is hardly anyone nowadays who could sing these roles better. as for her colleagues, they are well chosen: the closing trio of DER ROSENKAVALIER boasts susan graham as octavian (she also participates in the closing scene of act 1) and barbara bonney as sophie (who also sings a charming zdenka in the duet from ARABELLA). graham and fleming have often performed together and their voices blend very well, although one could perhaps wish for a bit more distinction between the two, as their voices are somehow quite similar in colour - but susan graham is such a winning artist, that this hardly matters. barbara bonney is sweet and girlish, her vibrato starting to loosen a bit in the climax of the ROSENKAVALIER trio, but she, as the others, is totally inside the character she portrays. christoph eschenbach gets the most sumptuous sounds from the vienna philharmonic (indeed, the orchestral sound alone is ravishing) and his tempi (especially in DER ROSENKAVALIER) are indulgently slow, but without loosening the tension. all to the good! overall this is one of the most recommendable issues in straussian singing and every lover of richard strauss (or indeed one of the artists) should not hesitate to buy it.
I used to think that Richard Strauss was a “difficult” composer, but while his music could hardly be described as “wall-to-wall tunes”, its most gorgeous moments are as gorgeous as anything you will ever hear.
Strauss had a life-long affair with the soprano voice and here we are given extended excerpts and scenes from operas featuring three of his greatest soprano roles, the Marschallin from “Der Rosenkavalier”, Arabella and Countess Madeleine from “Capriccio”.
Of today’s singers, there is surely no better exponent of these roles than the American soprano Renée Fleming, who is a worthy successor to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and, more recently, Kiri Te Kanawa; her radiant upper notes, the velvety warmth of her middle register and her unfailing ability to float legato lines without sacrificing textual clarity make her an ideal Strauss soprano.
Of the operas represented here, I am most familiar with “Der Rosenkavalier”, from which we are given the Marschallin’s monologue from Act 1 and the wonderful trio which ends the final act of the opera. In this, she is joined by the soprano Barbara Bonney and the mezzo Susan Graham; again, it would be hard to find better exponents of the roles of Sophie and Oktavian than the singers here.
Bonney reappears as Zdenka in the lovely Act 1 duet from “Arabella”. This is beautiful stuff, as are the Moonlight Music and the closing scene from “Capriccio”. In this, we are given a memorable cameo of the Major Domo by the legendary Austrian bass-baritone Walter Berry, in what must have been one of his final recorded performances; he also sings Faninal’s few phrases in the closing scene of “Der Rosenkavalier”.
The Wiener Philharmoniker could, of course, play Strauss in their sleep, but they are in top form here, guided by their conductor (and sometime pianist) Christoph Eschenbach.
The recording was made in December 1998 and the sound is absolutely first class.
Lovers of Strauss and the soprano voice will find much to enjoy here.