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Hyperion’s Strauss Lieder series is fast becoming a worthy successor to the seminal Schubert and Schumann Lieder sets on the label. This fourth volume features a veteran of these recordings, the great British bass-baritone Christopher Maltman.
Contrary to a commonly held perception of Strauss as a Lieder composer, what most of the songs in the present volume show is that he was not shy of addressing serious themes. Settings of Rückert, Dehmel, Goethe and others are tinged with a dark regret which is enhanced by their bass tessitura. Strauss the opera composer is evident in the epic scale of the lieder written post-Salome. Roger Vignoles provides his famous extensive booklet notes, with commentary about each individual song and scholarly discourse on the poetry.
“This fourth volume of songs in the Hyperion series matches Strauss's masterpieces to weaker offerings, all given equal shrift by the pianist Roger Vignoles and his singers. Maltman has the lion's share, his molasses-rich lower range and walnut-polished upper melting into the ethereal Am Ufer and finding gruff humour in Das Lied des Steinklopfers. Alastair Miles's robust, sensitive bass excels in Im Spätboot, perfectly capturing the eerie, dark atmosphere of Strauss's weary boat passenger.”
“Maltman and Vignoles strike the right note of hard-won simplicity for Goethe's 'Gefunden' and Heine's 'Mit deinen blauen Augen'. Miles then signs in with the wonderful night-boat meditation of Op. 56 No. 4, underlining the need for a true bass with the last low D flat. ...his imposing timbre fits the operatic scope of the three Rückert settings.”
“With one possible exception, these are all among Strauss's more rarely performed songs, and quite undeservedly so. Most are highly characteristic and clearly written with affection, while those that may not immediately proclaim the composer's identity ('Das Lied des Stein- klopfers' for instance) are among the most interesting. Perhaps that sense of a structured improvisation may (as in the Rückert setting 'Und dann nicht mehr') call for a restraining hand, but more often it is such an appealing personal quality that complaint would be sourly puritanical. Indeed some of the joy arises in just those moments, such as the inspired passage between verses in 'Des Dichters Abendgang', when Strauss the pianist takes over and claims his composer's freedom. Roger Vignoles captures well the expansiveness and generosity of the writing for piano. He is also a sensitive accompanist in songs where the piano part is relatively simple. “Heimkehr”, the last song of Op 15, is one of these, and this is also the exception to the songs' general unfamiliarity. It is well sung, with finely controlled high pianissimi, by Christopher Maltman, who has all but the last five songs (mostly Op 81), which are written specifically for bass. It must be said that with the first sound of Alastair Miles, one is immediately aware of a change, not merely in the quality and nature of the voice, but in its production too. Maltman is a valuable artist in many respects, but recording exposes an unevenness of emission which his art is usually able to render inconspicuous 'in the flesh'. Miles impresses deeply, down indeed to the depths of his low D flat.”
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