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Strauss: Ein Heldenleben / Four Last Songs Hybrid SACD - DSD

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Hybrid SACD - DSD, August 23, 2011
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Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 40 (TrV 190): Der Held
  2. Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 40 (TrV 190): Der Helden Widersacher
  3. Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 40 (TrV 190): Des Helden Gefährtin
  4. Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 40 (TrV 190): Des Helden Walstatt
  5. Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 40 (TrV 190): Des Helden Friedenswerke
  6. Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 40 (TrV 190): Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung
  7. Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), for soprano & orchestra, o.Op. 150 (TrV 296, AV 150): 1. Frühling
  8. Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), for soprano & orchestra, o.Op. 150 (TrV 296, AV 150): 2. September
  9. Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), for soprano & orchestra, o.Op. 150 (TrV 296, AV 150): 3. Beim Schlafengehen
  10. Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), for soprano & orchestra, o.Op. 150 (TrV 296, AV 150): 4. Im Abendrot


Product Details

  • Orchestra: Rotterdam Phiharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Yannick Nezet-Seguin
  • Composer: Richard Strauss
  • Audio CD (August 23, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Hybrid SACD - DSD
  • Label: BIS
  • ASIN: B005DTCMC2
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,937 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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This is a low-key Heldenleben that comes as close to being Strauss lite as such a massive score can. Thrust and power are not on the agenda; neither is sumptuousness - a medium-good orchestra like the Rotterdam Phil. can't be expected to compete with the world-class orchestras that regularly roll out Ein Heldenleben to dazzle us. But you can make the case that we've been wowed enough and might want to listen to the score on a more human level. Nezet-Seguin fits the bill in that regard, but there are a few caveats.

First, it's not so easy to forget the Berlin and vienna Phil. when faced with the plain-Jane playing heard ere; Strauss provided a long violin solo that isn't particularly moving or thrilling in this version. Second, if N-S is going to eschew thrills, he needs to substitute something else, or more. Instead, he more or less directs traffic, getting the notes in place but not phrasing or shaping the music with individuality, much less charisma. Perhpas that was intentional, and online I've read praise from the major London newspapers. I wonder if they're cheering a conductor who has now become a home town favorite as guest conductor of the London Philharmonic. According to N-S's Wikipedia entry, he started conducting at the age of ten, which means that at 36 he already has a quarter of a century of experience on the podium. You wouldn't guess it by this tidy but uninteresting Heldenleben.

I anticipated an appealing account of the Four Last Songs because of the soloist, Dorothea Roschmann, who is probably the leading German lyric soprano on the scene. Bis's engineers's have balanced the sound to favor the orchestra, but Roschmann's voice is lovely even when it is a bit swamped.
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My first reaction upon hearing the opening of the "Ein Heldenleben" here was sheer frustration, it is so flaccid and delivered at such a low energy level compared with my favourite recordings, headed by the vintage performance from Ormandy and the Philadelphians, which positively leaps out of the speakers; likewise the Rotterdam strings do not deliver the sumptuous, velvety sound I prize in Karajan's famous account. I almost lost patience but persevered, and am glad to report that matters pick up considerably in the love music, which is sweetly played and enhanced by some lovely solo work from the leader, if hardly erotically charged in comparison with how the BPO plays it, with soaring exaltation. Then again, matters improve yet further with a stirring account of the Battlefield music and by the time we get to the climax of the "Friedenswerke" the horns are whooping and the musical temperature has shot up to sustain some really rousing passages - although once more there is cooling off in the coda. This is almost the recorded equivalent of hearing a band warm up during rehearsal and can only partially deliver.

So in short the orchestral work is really a three-star performance; what inspires me to award five stars is the "Four Last Songs" which follows, a version to rank with any, as long as you enjoy a lighter, more silvery soprano as opposed to the "fat", V8 lushness of a heavier-voiced singer such as Jessye Norman or Flagstad. My discovery and appreciation of Dorothea Röschmann is ongoing; I have already posted several rave reviews of others of her recordings and this one joins them as highly recommendable. She is of the Lucia Popp school of voice: a shimmering, vibrant, slender flame of a soprano which burns with bright intensity.
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