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Diana Damrau’s Strauss Sublime

available at AmazonR.Strauss, "Poesie",
D.Damrau / C.Thielemann / MPhil
Virgin Classics
There are different kinds of “gorgeous”, “pretty”, “exciting”, and “ravishing” in music. Really obvious ones—like the Larghetto from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet—where it is hard to imagine someone from an even remotely similar cultural background not to share some of the delight on first hearing. Then there are really difficult ones, pieces of music that usually demand repeat exposure, willingness, and a little background to come to experience sensual bliss. No matter how much you love Bartók string quartets, it would take a considerable arrogance or small-mindedness to suggest that it is easy music to love, much less lovable upon first exposure.

Mozart, Clarinet Quintet KV.581, Larghetto. Quatuor Stadler & J.C.Veihan, K617

In that sense the best of Richard Strauss is difficult music to handle, because if you love it, it is so seductive, it suggests that loving it is the most natural thing in the world. That listening to the Four Last Songs, for example, should make any and every random or accidental listener fall in love instantly, too. I know this isn’t true, but I would like to think that there is a kind of gorgeousness about the orchestral songs of Richard Strauss that makes the road to sensual enjoyment a fairly easy and fast one to travel. And no one could possibly make it any easier than Diana Damrau, that supreme Strauss soprano… a voice – and indeed a woman – that immediately makes one feel that Strauss composed for her, and only for her.

B.Bartók, String Quartet No.5, SZ102, Finale. Hagen Quartet. Newton Classics 8802011

Her playfulness, her ease, her joyfully purled high notes, her melodious allure and the coy sparkle: Whether in opera or concert, she is a perfect joy to experience… capable of making believers out of doubters and turning hackneyed roles into three dimensional, intriguing characters. If you haven’t the opportunity to hear her live, the proof is in her latest pudding CD release on Virgin Classics. Strauss’ finest orchestral songs, recorded with the best Strauss-team available at the time: Christian Thielemann and the Munich Philharmonic, an orchestra capable of world class performances if (and only if) prodded in the right ways. The loving, caring sensitivity of Thielemann’s support (! – no orchestral ego here at all) is oozing through the music everywhere; he accompanies in the best sense: eager to let Damrau and Strauss shine in the best possible light.

R.Strauss, Ständchen Op.17/2. Diana Damrau. Virgin Classics 628664

Sixteen of the 22 songs on this disc were recorded live at a concert at the Munich Philharmonic Hall that I happened to catch (reviewed in a column for WETA here). The rest was recorded later (the liner notes won’t tell and the sound doesn’t give it away) to give the CD a more generous play time and help a few more Strauss gems to this luxuriant treatment. As predicted immediately after the concert: the resultant disc goes immediately to my Want-List; as it would have to do for everyone who likes Strauss.

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