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Kirsten Flagstad in Concert: Strauss & Wagner
Richard [1] Strauss, Richard [Classical] Wagner, Wilhelm Furtwängler
Kirsten Flagstad in Concert: Strauss & Wagner
Genres: Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #1


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CD Reviews

An important recording for the dedicated collector
R. A. Derector | 03/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The great sopranos Kirsten Flagstad and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf circle Strauss's Four Last Songs forever like twin planets around the sun. As is well known Strauss had a lifelong love of the soprano voice (he was married to the soprano Pauline de Ahna) and it is fitting that his valedictory composition is for soprano accompanied by large orchestra. Schwarzkopf was the foremost Strauss interpreter of her time and made the first commercial recording of the songs in 1953. Strauss was not a part of Flagstad's usual repertoire yet the honor of the very first performance went to her. The great Wagnerian performed it at the Albert Hall in London in 1950 accompanied by Wilhelm Furtwaengler leading the Philharmonia Orchestra, which was founded by Schwarzkopf's husband Walter Legge. Unfortunately, as is explained in the sparse notes which accompany the CD, the only 2 known tapes of the performance are badly worn and scratched, and the sound is very bad, well below the level that should be allowed for a CD sold to the public. Yet somehow Flagstad's radiance and the beauty of her voice come through. I suspect that we possess an inner ear which is capable of reconstructing most of a whole from broken parts. It was thrilling to hear Flagstad's rendition for the first time, and I do have a sense of what it was like to have been in the audience at that first performance. Her totally unforced power and glorious tone manage to come through. It is a pity that the orchestral accompaniment cannot really be heard. Furtwaengler was for many the greatest interpreter of the late romantics, and the orchestral scoring of the Four Last Songs is made for this conductor who was unexcelled as conjuror of the the mystical. The music on the CD is rounded out with Flagstad in solo recital of 3 Wagner songs, and solo and duet performances of a radio concert in 1949 with Set Svanholm. The last track on the CD is a marvelous 1952 BBC interview with Flagstad from their Desert Isle series. Famous people are asked to name the 8 musical selections they would choose to have with them if stranded on an island. The interview is charming, and in it Flagstad says that the most beautiful sounds she ever heard uttered from a human throat were 4 words set by Beethoven sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. My own selection for this honor is also Schwarzkopf. It is her "O weiter, stiller Friede!" in Im Abendrot, in her first 1953 mono recording of the Four Last Songs with Otto Ackermann and the Philharmonia. It gives me that chill up my spine every time I hear it. This recording surpasses her also beautiful stereo recording of the Songs from the 1960's with Szell and the Berlin Radio Symphony. For the listener new to this music Gundula Janowicz's performace with von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic offers a radiant voice and a radiant orchestra. I shall however always return to the 1953 Schwarzkopf, and at times the Flagstad debut, when I want to be moved by this music. Please note that the 5 star award is due to the historical importance of this release, and not for the musical quality, as described above. This CD is not recommended as a listeners first introduction to the Four Last Songs."