Think you know Richard Strauss’s songs? Think again. Chances are you know a handful, possibly a few dozen, but did you know there are over 190? Brigitte Fassbaender believes it’s the fault of lazy singers and audiences who happily listen to the same ‘Morgens’ and ‘Zueignungs’ time after time, never exploring other riches – and riches there are, several revealed for the first time in this beautifully curated box.
Strauss wrote his first song, a charming Christmas ditty, aged six, and his last, Malven, in 1948 at the ripe old age of 78. In between he poured his heart and soul into a series that includes too many masterpieces to mention and remarkably few duds. These recordings, made in Garmisch, the small town where Strauss owned a villa involved 13 singers and Fassbaender herself as narrator of his two melodramas, one of which is the hour-long Enoch Arden.
Not every singer is perfect (recording songs in their original – generally high – keys taxes a few), but all round it’s a first rate set, full of discoveries. Among the standouts are mezzo Anke Vondung who gives oodles of gooseflesh with her use of text, delicious high soprano Anja-Nina Bahrmann, and mezzo Michelle Breedt who only let me down in the dreaded Morgen. The men include fine tenors Christian Elsner, Brenden Gunnell and a fearless Lucian Krasznec, as well as the virile baritone Markus Eiche. I also enjoyed the thrilling soprano of Christiane Libor, though I’ve heard Juliane Banse in better voice.
The pianists – Christoph Berner, Burkhard Kehring, Wolfram Rieger, Malcolm Martineau, and Nina Schumann – work miracles. Recorded in naturalistic sound on nine discs with superb notes and texts, this set comes recommended for anyone who loves their Lieder.