John Miller
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From the age of six, when he first began composing songs, to the very end of his life, Richard Strauss was in love with the human voice. Having married opera singer Pauline de Ahna, his pragmatic business sense in supporting his family while on his conducting tours suggested a way of obtaining two fees from the same concert. He orchestrated a number of his best songs so that Pauline could join him on the platform. Others were orchestrated by other conductors such as Mottl and Heger.

The recital on this disc comprises: “Heimliche Aufforderung” Op. 27 No. 3, ”Allerseelen” Op. 10 No. 8, ”Ständchen” Op. 17 No. 2, ”Ruhe meine Seele” Op. 27 No. 1, ”Morgen! ” Op. 27 No. 4, ”Zueignung Op. 10 No. 1, ”Traum durch die Dämmerung” Op. 29 No. 1, ”Ich trage meine Minne” Op. 32 No. 1, ”Liebeshymnus” Op. 32 No. 3, ”Verführung” Op. 33 No. 1, ”Das Rosenband” Op. 36 No. 1, ”Befreit” Op. 39 No. 4, ”Wiegenlied” Op. 41 No 1, ”Freundliche Vision” Op. 48 No. 1, ”Waldseligkeit” Op. 49 No. 1, ”Die Heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland” Op. 55 No. 6, ”Capriccio”, Closing scene, Moonlight Music, Der Rosenkavelier: Second Waltz Suite, Op. 59. Total time: 70'26.

My touchstone for these glorious songs has long been Szell & Schwarzkopf's classic RBCD including the Four Last Songs. Most of the great sopranos, however, have aspired to them, and the soprano voice has dominated in recordings, although several tenors have also contributed. Some of the poems were written from a male point of view, others are applicable to either sex, and it makes a most interesting and illuminating change to hear settings sung by a tenor of Steve Davislim's calibre. In ”Wiegenlied” (Lullaby) for example, he is the joyful and proud father, compared with the intimate, half-voiced adoration of Schwarzkopf. In ”Morgen!”, Scottish poet John Henry McKay's ecstatic dream of meeting the beloved again, we find Schwarzkopf at her most inward, hardly able to trust such deep emotions, while Steve Davislim's excitement and confidence in mutual love is barely contained. I should mention here that the long violin solo in the song's introduction is magnificently played by Mara Miller, Concertmaster of the State Orchestra of Victoria; she evidently realises that solo violin parts in Strauss always portray the unfettered soul.

Steve Davislim's wealth of experience of major roles in international opera houses and on concert platforms stands him in good stead for interpreting the more operatic songs in the group, but he also has the lieder singer's ability to encapsulate the more intimate and subtle songs. The voice is flexible and capable of floating long, beautifully-inflected legato lines, with good German pronunciation, enviable clarity of diction and great breath control.

Fellow Australian Simone Young's international career is a remarkable one, including being the first woman to conduct at the Vienna Staatsoper. She has a natural feel for Richard's Strauss' sound-world, and with the aid of a willing State of Victoria Symphony Orchestra provides a backdrop for her tenor which resembles a moving sequence of Klimt paintings. The orchestra get a chance to show their prowess with the two final tracks, orchestral extracts from Capriccio and Rosenkavalier. I was particularly taken with the rarely heard Moonlight Music from Capriccio, deliciously atmospheric, with fine horn solos.

As the recording was first issued as RBCD in stereo, the SACD re-mastering has been given a competently synthesised ambience from the surround speakers. The recording venue was already very reverberant—probably at its best acoustically with an audience present … and all the required detail of the accompaniments are there, for example in the hushed feather-down muted strings and caressing flute scales of “Wiegenlied”. Davislim's voice is given plenty of room to expand and has real tonal lustre.

This disc gave me much pleasure, its superb musicianship … For me, it can happily take its place amongst the best recitals of Strauss' orchestrated lieder and is highly recommended.


***** 5 stars (Performance) **** 4 stars (Sonics)