STRAUSS Complete Songs Vol. 6 – Elizabeth Watts
Hyperion’s complete coverage of the Richard Strauss songs (begun in Vol 1 with Christine Brewer – 6/05) has rightly received considerable acclaim but I was unable to respond with complete enthusiasm to the contribution of Kiera Duffy in Vol 5 (1/12). However, Vol 6 is a quite different achievement. The accompanist – and guiding force behind the survey – Roger Vignoles was and is very impressive indeed, here readily catching the extraordinary variety of mood in each song. He plays the often extended introductions and postludes (usually simple in their poetic feeling) quite magically, to say nothing of the extended interludes. The opening song (‘Einerlei’ – ‘Sameness’) is a delightful instance, and is surely a loving picture of Strauss’s wife, Pauline. ‘Waldesfahrt’ (‘Woodland journey’) – a carriage ride through beautiful countryside – is similarly affecting. Also very appealing are the evocation of the Schubertian brooklet in ‘Das Bächlein’, the ‘fairy-tale’ scene-setting to the song about a goat (‘Es war einmal ein Bock’) and the Schumannesque melody that enhances ‘Von Händlern wird die Kunst Bedroht’. But the most telling and witty pianistic contributions come in those Strauss songs in which he declared his anger with publishers. Here he often quotes satirically from his own orchestral music, notably from Der Rosenkavalier and Baron Och’s caricature, in ‘Einst kam der Bock als Bote’ (‘The goat once came as messenger’), and in the defiant declaration ‘Die Künstler sind die Schöpfer’ (‘Artists are creators’).The penultimate song here, ‘Wer hat’s gethan?’ (‘Who did it’ – a question for the Almighty), is much more serious. Surprisingly it remained unpublished until 1974 but its melancholy and tolling octaves are unforgettable.
My pleasure in this latest volume is without any reservations. Elizabeth Watts sings gloriously, rising fluently to the high tessitura of Strauss’s melodic lines (immediately obvious in the first few songs included in the recital). Her beautiful voice, sensitive phrasing and response to word-meanings are consistently rewarding and her partnership with Roger Vignoles could hardly be more beautifully balanced, a credit to the recording producer (Mark Brown).