Schoenberg, Gurrelieder, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, M. Stenz (Hyperion, 2015)
The main attraction was Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, marking the return of American dramatic soprano Heidi Melton, who made quite a splash on the BSO's Wagner program two years ago. Melton's German remains beautiful, after training in opera houses in Germany, but her voice, while powerful, is not yet fully reliable at the top of her range. The first high note of the set, the G-flat in Frühling, was on the edge of control and intonation above the staff faltered in places, especially in the first song. The music just did not always seem to be securely in Melton's brain, and worry can lead to vocal uncertainty: while her chest voice was robust and luscious, the top notes could be spotty, like the little sixteenth-note figures up to G or F-sharp in September. Still, when it comes right down to it, much of these songs' impact comes down to the last quartrain of the third song, Beim Schlafengehen, and Melton had the vocal power for her "unfettered soul" to soar freely, as well as the shimmering pianissimo for the final song. The orchestral contributions were all fine, with Stenz holding back the full force of the score at times, and especially fine solos from the concertmaster, Jonathan Carney, the principal horn, and the paired flutes and piccolos of the lark-song at the end. Strained ovations earned a lovely encore, Strauss's song Cäcilie.
Simon Chin, Soprano Heidi Melton shows promise in Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs’ program (Washington Post, May 25)
Tim Smith, BSO offers hearty night of German classics with Markus Stenz, Heidi Melton (Baltimore Sun, May 22)