ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
RICHARD STRAUSS - FOUR LAST SONGS


RICHARD STRAUSS - FOUR LAST SONGS - RENÉE FLEMING (Soprano) - CHRISTIAN THIELEMANN (Conductor) - MUNICH PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA - DECCA 4780647 OR 001185102

These wonderful songs, composed by Strauss during the last moments of his life, stand, along with Mahler's Ruckert Lieder, as some of the definitive examples of works for solo voice and full orchestra ever written. Again I believe that it is because they were not written to showcase the human voice, but rather were great creative outbursts of music to be performed by the human voice as an integral part of the orchestral fabric.

For those of you who already have the legendary recording of the Four Last Songs with Schwarzkopf and Szell on EMI, don't worry. This new recording released in September 2008 does not replace or outdo it. It does however give you a different take on this work.

The Schwarzkopf is of a rare beauty, of that there is no doubt, and still stands as one of the best recordings ever made, but there is always a slight strain in the voice on the higher notes and a lack of vocal agility in certain passages. With Fleming, it's the complete opposite. Her voice, down in the low to mid register, is sometimes downright ugly, but the acrobatic agility and technique she has at her control, and the beauty and silkiness of her high notes are second to none, which proves very useful in repertoire like this. The way she controls her diction and the sadness within the music during the last few moments of the last song is staggering, and Thielemann, being a Strauss expert himself, holds tight on that same emotion right to the last whisper of sound. Strauss himself would have cried.

The rest of the CD is full of other great opera arias and lieder by Strauss, delivered with the same technical polish and profound emotion.

Jean-Yves Duperron