STRAUSS Through Life and Love
In a note in the booklet to her debut album, Louise Alder talks about her ‘personal passionate love affair’ with Richard Strauss, which, she explains, was cemented when she stepped in as Sophie in Glyndebourne’s 2014 Proms performance of Der Rosenkavalier. That love for the composer – and his songs – is vividly articulated at every point throughout this lovely disc.
The programme is split into seven small sections, which map both a loose biographical trajectory (from ‘Youth’ to ‘Loss’ and ‘Release’) and a kind of Jugendstil emotional landscape – presenting feelings, of course, which Strauss revels in stirring in together. Each song sounds utterly fresh, with the bright, flinty beauty of Alder’s soprano constantly conveying lively intelligence as well as strong characterisation. The interpretations are natural and confident, her German vividly pointed (she’s been a member of the ensemble of Oper Frankfurt since 2014).
There’s mischief in the lighter numbers, beautiful tenderness in ‘Breit’ über mein Haupt’ and ‘Das Rosenband’, and seductiveness in ‘Ständchen’ and a terrific account of ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’. As one might expect, the voice lacks an element of Straussian richness you get from some of the big guns in this repertoire but this doesn’t stop Alder offering powerful, grand performances of ‘Befreit’ and ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’.
She is excellent in the expressionistic depths of the remarkable ‘Sehnsucht’ and offers unusually pensive, moving accounts of ‘Zueignung’ and ‘Allerseelen’ – placed in that final ‘Release’ section. Her control is exquisite, too, and I found myself anticipating each occasion (such as in the ascents of ‘Waldseligkeit’) where the music takes the voice into its sweet upper reaches, where her pure, bell-like tone is dabbed with delicate touches of vibrato.
Joseph Middleton’s piano-playing is superb throughout as well, offering perceptive, lively and sensitive accompaniment entirely on Alder’s wavelength – listen to the lilt he brings, for example, to the start of ‘Ich Schwebe’. Orchid Classics’ sound captures both of them naturally; and although it’s a shame the booklet doesn’t run to texts and translations, we do get a comprehensive and detailed booklet note from Joanna Wyld. All in all, this debut is a delight.