Strauss: Four Last Songs / Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder Import, Original recording remastered
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Unfortunately Masur chose some ridiculously slow speeds but you can get used to those. Generally you'll be too distracted by Norman to notice, so it's not a big problem. At least nothing is too fast, which in these songs is the greater sin.
The Vier Letzte Lieder was originally coupled with six Strauss lieder performances (still available at full price) and one can't help feeling a little short-changed that Phillips replaced these with the Wessendonck-lieder, losing many delights in the process (and a reasonable amount of listening time).
The Wagner is a good performance (it could hardly be less from Norman), but I can't bring myself to call it 'great'. Studer (again coupled with an indispensable if less-known vier letzte lieder) and Eaglen (with a poor Strauss but excellent Berg) both bring something more beautiful and more interesting to these songs.
In the end, unless you really only want the vier letzte lieder, the mid-price repackaging is a bit of a farce, as you only get two-thirds of the music. You may as well pay for the full price recording and get the other Strauss lieder instead - they're more worthwhile than the Wessendonck-lieder in any case.
Many will debate their favourite recordings. There are different strengths to different performances. For me, Jessye Norman has the controlled power to make this the standout performance so far recorded. Kurt Masur's conducting is superb, and the Gewandhaus produces all the calm variation of this rich score.
Whilst Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder are a very satisfying addition, they do not reach the ethereal heights of the Strauss.
Strauss' four last songs are absolute masterpieces. The lyrics of three of them are by Hermann Hesse (one of my favorite writers and poets); the lines of the fourth lied are by Joseph von Eichendorff. Therefore, the mastery and the mellow artistry of the last Richard Strauss (here saying a serene adieu to his earthly experience and preparing to the next life of his soul) joined to the high poetry of Hesse/Eichendorff create the miracle.
In my opinion Wagner's lieder stay, from an artistic point of view, one or two steps below. Mathilde Wesendonk's lyrics are quite good and touching, but obviously hers is an amateur poetry and it suffers a bit from mannerism and a Decadent posture. The orchestration is not by Wagner, but by Felix Mottl. He is an excellent Wagnerian specialist and a gifted musician, but the orchestral effect lacks the involving density and originality of the Master.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Really - I have about a gazillion recordings of the Four Last Songs and quite a few of the Wesendonck Lieder. Read morePublished on August 19, 2014 by Robert B. Lamm
Other reviewers have rhapsodized about this release from a far more knowledgeable perspective than I could ever do. Read morePublished on January 4, 2014 by J. R. Trtek
Having listened to almost all of Strauss heroines, including Flagsted and Fleming,
I rate Jessey as the ideal voice for Strauss
Some recordings captured when singers were at their splendid best (and now thankfully digitally re-mastered so that the acoustics remain au courant) are simply staples of the music... Read morePublished on January 6, 2012 by Grady Harp