Richard Strauss’ writing for orchestra and soprano is relentlessly passionate. It is a musical palette, which shows the influence of Schumann, Wagner and Liszt. Yet, it is highly personal. He was deeply in love with singing and the human voice. Afterall, he married a soprano, Pauline de Ahna (in May 1894). The three songs Morgen! (the first of which is recorded here), Ruhe, meine Seele (Rest, My Soul) and Heimliche Aufforerung (Secret Invitation) were written in six days just after their engagement. Prior to this however, was a love with a cellist colleague’s wife, which saw the production of eight songs in Opus 10, from which comes Zueignung (Dedication) – also included on this disc.
But it is the Four Last Songs (as Strauss’ publisher named them), which have taken lieder to new heights. First performed in London in 1950 (8 months after the composer’s death), they are now a defining work in the repertory of the world’s leading lyric sopranos. It is indeed a great treasure that at last we have one of Australia’s finest in Yvonne Kenny recorded, with an innate sense of beauty, clarity and expressive nuance. Her ability to show every detail from the text, in her phrasing and tonal colour, is completely captivating.
Ms Kenny’s reputation as a dazzling interpreter of works by Strauss was forged through her interpretations of Strauss’ operatic heroines, principally at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and English National Opera. This disc not only reveals her as a superb interpreter of lied but, with the inclusion of excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier, there is a glimmer of her operatic brilliance in her role as the Marschallin (Act 1 monologue, Act 3 Duet and Trio).
Johannes Fritzsch, as Chief Conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, has brought his complete conducting operatic experience, principally in Europe, to engage with the singer and subsequently on this disc, the listener. He is masterful in drawing every detail from the orchestral timbre to full effect.