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Four Last Songs
Richard Strauss, Christian Thielemann, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Four Last Songs
Genres: Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #1

Renée Fleming, the world's preeminent lyric soprano, is joined by Christian Thielemann, internationally acclaimed for his performances of Strauss works, for this recording of the exquisitely beautiful Four Last Songs. Thes...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Richard Strauss, Christian Thielemann, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Renée Fleming
Title: Four Last Songs
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Decca
Original Release Date: 1/1/2008
Re-Release Date: 9/16/2008
Genres: Pop, Classical
Styles: Vocal Pop, Opera & Classical Vocal, Historical Periods, Modern, 20th, & 21st Century, Romantic (c.1820-1910)
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 028947806479


Album Description
Renée Fleming, the world's preeminent lyric soprano, is joined by Christian Thielemann, internationally acclaimed for his performances of Strauss works, for this recording of the exquisitely beautiful Four Last Songs. These enduringly popular works have become signature pieces for the soprano and she was delighted for the opportunity to work with the gifted Thielemann. In addition, Fleming performs a selection of lieder with orchestra as well as arias from Ariadne auf Naxos and Die ägyptische Helena. Also available in a special, deluxe edition! In addition to the Strauss program, a second disc which highlights Fleming's signature roles at the Metropolitan Opera is included. These extended scenes are drawn from her highly-regarded Decca discography. On September 22, Fleming will open the Met Opera Season with a Gala featuring her in her most acclaimed roles. This one-night-only performance will be broadcast live in HD to movie theaters throughout the US.

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CD Reviews

Heartbreakingly disappointing
bert1761 | Washington, DC United States | 09/16/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)

"As one can see from my other reviews, I have long been enraptured by the voice and talent of Renee Fleming. But what I have found spellbinding in the past is nowhere to be encountered on this CD. Gone are the creamy vocals, superior musicianship and tremendous intelligence. In their place appears to be tremendous indulgence.

This recording of the "Four Last Songs" could not be any more different from Ms. Fleming's 1995 recording. In that recording, her beautiful legato singing and sensitive phrasing produced a stunning and intimate performance to stand alongside the greats -- even though Ms. Fleming had never performed them live at the time and was only in her mid-30s. In the current recording, her phrasing and singing is very choppy -- as though she needs to find a different color for every word. While she is arguably interpreting the poems set to music, Strauss could never have intended one to do so at the expense of the gorgeous lines of his music. Moreover, this performance feels as though Ms. Fleming is "overacting" her part as interpreter, much in the same way she marred her up-to-that-point-excellent performance in Gergiev's Verdi Requiem by treating the Libera Me in many respects as though it were an operatic mad scene.

Things improve somewhat after the Four Last Songs, but not by much. The second excerpt from "Ariadne auf Naxos" is excellent, but the first lies too low for her voice and causes her to make some uncomfortable noises from her lower register and, while much of her performance of "Es gibt ein Reich" is beautiful, she sounds strained at the end and detracts from much of what came before. The orchestral songs that follow may be the best thing on the disc, but it may be because one's associations with those pieces are nowhere near as strong as with the "Four Last Songs" and "Ariadne" excerpts, so that Ms. Fleming does not come across as mannered and indulgent.

The problems with this recording are highlighted even more by the inclusion of the bonus material on the Deluxe Edition. (If one is a newcomer to Ms. Fleming's work and is not deterred from purchasing this recording by this review or the other inevitable bad ones, the couple extra dollars for the Deluxe Edition are well worth the expenditure. And the quality of the additional material is so great as to elevate my overall rating for the Deluxe Edition almost to 4 stars.) Excerpts from some of her earlier recordings show her at the height of her powers, deploying her magnificent voice beautifully and appropriately dramatically. Her performance of Tatyana's letter scene from "Eugene Onegin" is may particular favorite. And having heard her perform it at the Met two years ago, I know that she is still capable of such magnificent work. (And you can see for yourself on the DVD of that performance. Tchaikovsky - Eugene Onegin / Fleming, Vargas, Hvorostovsky, Gergiev, Carsen [Metropolitan Opera 2007])

Oh for the good old days..."
An interpretation for today by a voice in prime condition
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 09/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Many people will be surprised by the negativity of the comments by bert1761, the first and previous reviewer of this disc. First, let me say that I deplore the practice of some Amazon readers who give another reviewer a negative vote simply because they do not agree with the opinion expressed. I think "bert" writes honestly, more in sorrow than in anger, and that his is a thoughtful, intelligent, sincerely held opinion that deserves careful consideration. I know what he means by the overt expressiveness of Fleming's interpretation but I do not agree that it is obtrusive or excessive. The voice is in wonderful condition and she is able to sustain the line with apparently effortless ease - except when she clearly chooses to disrupt it deliberately for emotive effect. The lower register is rich and characterful - you can hear its development just from the resonance of Renee's speaking voice in the publicity interviews on this website - and the top soars as creamily and amply as ever; I hear no strain anywhere. Her German is of course impeccable and her breath control a thing of wonder. I, too, am a great fan of Janowitz's and Te Kanawa's (earlier version with Davis) more restrained, classical interpretations, but Fleming's "Im Abendrot", for example, still works its magic for me. She is perhaps delivering here on record more of what you might hear in a live performance (indeed, I believe these are live takes - although you'd never know), when your communicative gestures can be more emphatic than in a recording - but slightly idiosyncratic instances of vocal colouring and verbal inflection can, on repeated listenings, become a little quirky and irritating. Nonetheless, this is an immediate, heartfelt interpretation of these inexhaustibly moving songs and very much a performance for the modern listener who needs and expects more individuality to distinguish one version from another. Furthermore, the recorded sound is technically marvellous; I have never heard so much detail in the orchestration of these songs.

The subsequent Strauss arias and songs are a glorious addition to her discography; Fleming was born to sing this composer - and just as she would opt to sing Strauss over any other composer for the voice, I would choose Fleming to interpret him. I cannot hear any inadequacy in her lower register in the first extended "Ariadne" excerpt and I rank this disc with her earlier selection of Strauss "bon-bons" with Susan Graham and Barbara Bonney. The bonus arias on the second disc in the Deluxe Edition are testament to her versatility and supremacy in other composers, especially Tchaikovsky's Tatyana.

So I respectfully beg to differ from the previous reviewer's judgement - but would fiercely defend and welcome his right to express it, prompting, as it does, civilised debate."
The Egyptian Renee
Tony Consiglio | New York, NY | 09/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Contrary to all my expectations, Zweite Brautnacht is the strongest performance on this CD. Clearly, Fleming was inspired and excited about singing this music - astonishing even by Strauss's standards - and rose to meet its extraordinary challenges. Listen - your blood will race! Her recording of it rivals Leonie Rysanek's for beauty and intensity and easily surpasses Leontyne Price's and Deborah Voigt's. The rest of the CD may lack this perfection, but it certainly is not a return to Fleming's self-indulgent style. Just note the energetic tempos throughout - especially refreshing in September. Most of the distinctive expression here makes strong musical sense. I love what she does on zittert in Fruhling. I hope these performances of Ariadne's music and Verfuhrung show there is more to come - I'd like to hear Fruhlingsfeier and a complete Ariadne. (I tried to change my rating to five stars, but the website won't let me change it!)

For the full significance of Fleming's relationship to Strauss, don't miss her Strauss Heroines CD. I don't think anyone has ever equaled her achievement in the roles of the Marschallin, the Countess, and Arabella. Fleming's voice fits those roles (and Strauss's songs) the way Rysanek's voice fit the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten, the way Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's voice fit the songs of Hugo Wolf, the way Maria Callas's voice fit roles like Lady Macbeth, Anna Bolena, Armida, and others."