CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


By (Richard) Strauss

available at Amazon
C. Brewer, Great Strauss Scenes, E. Owens, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, D. Runnicles

(released on June 27, 2010)
TELARC 31755-02 | 59'10"

available at Amazon
Strauss, Lieder, D. Damrau, Munich Philharmonic, C. Thielemann

(released on February 15, 2011)
Virgin 628664 0 8 | 71'09"
We have featured the recent Strauss CD from Christine Brewer in reviews of her recent concerts, but we should make it official and endorse it as good listening. This disc had me with its opening sounds, Elektra's shriek ("Sei verflucht!" -- up to an earth-shattering B-flat) as Chrysothemis runs back into the house, frightened by her sister's plan to kill Klytämnestra. It makes for a dramatic introduction to the scene actually recorded, with Eric Owens' Orest appearing at the doorstep but only gradually being recognized by Elektra, some of the heroine's most sensuous, tender music in an otherwise rather disturbing opera. Like that opening wail, the excerpt ends on Elektra's ecstatic realization that Orest will act on her long-desired revenge against their mother. So much of the disc's appeal is contained in that first searing vocal flight: the force and power of Brewer's voice, in all of its unaccompanied glory and later glowing effortlessly through the amassed orchestra, but also its concentrated tone and outright gorgeous beauty. As noted by Jens in his recommendation of this recording, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is not in itself a reason to listen, but the fine Strauss conductor Donald Runnicles has them in fine form in two instrumental excerpts, the Moonlight Interlude from Capriccio and the always-trashy Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome, some intonation quality and sectional unevenness aside. How long must we wait to have complete recordings of Salome, Elektra, Capriccio, and Die Frau ohne Schatten with Christine Brewer?

A more recent Strauss release, a full disc of Lieder sung by German soprano Diana Damrau, is another easy recommendation. There is not much to add to what Jens Laurson already wrote about this disc, although this is a completely different kind of voice than Brewer's dramatic soprano, the result is a delectable confection, not least because of a far superior orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, and perhaps the greatest living Strauss conductor, Christian Thielemann. As Jens also noted of a good part of the program he heard live in Munich, Damrau's is not a large voice, but the effect in recording is more balanced and clearly audible, one of those situations where a recording is preferable to the experience live. Strauss worshiped the soprano voice in all its facets and colors: Damrau represents the lighter side of the voice, the soprano of Sophie, Zerbinetta, and Aithra -- the yin to Brewer's yang, as it were -- and she sings this music so well (the winged fluttering of Cupid in Amor, op. 68/5, being perhaps the most stunning example). The selection of songs is generous and wide-ranging over the composer's lifetime, with the only complete set being the six songs of the op. 68 Brentano-Lieder.

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