One of my favorite recordings of Strauss' Four Last Songs
The Cultural Observer | 05/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is hard for me to imagine that Renee Fleming began her career singing Mozart and Strauss roles, considering the career that has been skyrocketing her into the international scene with bel canto roles and recently, Handelian successes. Most sopranos who succeed in the "Mozart and Strauss" repertoire do not usually become great Italianate sopranos, but Renee Fleming apparently has the throat to sing them all. Now to get to the matter of this recording, I would like to look back to many of the great recordings of these four pieces. Great Straussian staples like Jessye Norman and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf have given these pieces a genius of interpretation that puts a lot of the Vier Vetzte Lieder to substandard class. Schwarzkopf, whose interpretation of the pieces is considered by many the quintessential recording of the work, is in my opinion one of the most expressive renderings of Strauss' final masterpiece. Indeed, one can listen to the emotional inflections Madame Schwarzkopf inserts in every word, and although her attention to detail may bother some, I think in the realm of interpretation no one can ever surpass her. Not even Kirsten Flagstad, who pioneered these songs. Jessye Norman is of course, by far, one of the greatest Straussian vocalists, and it may seem to others that La Norman has a more beautiful timbre, but then I think her recording lacks the intelligence of Schwarzkopf's recording. Janowitz is another great singer of the role, but then Elisabeth's intreprative skills will usually stick to you when you listen to it enough that you find value in every word she utters. Then comes along Renee Fleming. This recording, in my opinion, balances vocal beauty (naturally, it's Renee) and interpretation to a level that will easily place itself with Schwarzkopf's reading of Strauss' piece. Her Fruhling is simply haunting, her September calming, Beim Schlafengehn a jewel to behold, and her Im Abendrot, I believe, to be the greatest Im Abendrot of them all. This undoubtedly is an essential recording, and with the addition of a few songs plus a great reading of Strauss' music by Christoph Eschenbach, I will highly recommend this along with Schwarzkopf's rendition of the Four Last Songs."
Rashida Moore | Waco, Texas | 02/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm in LOVE with Strauss...someday I'll sing this and I can't wait!!!! Renee is amazing and molto expressivo, as usual. She soars as if she's as light as a feather yet her voice carries with it so much emotion and heaviness...wow! A MUST have for any serious music lover/collector!"
Fleming's Glorious Voice Injects Intimacy Into Four Last Son
Raymond Vacchino | Toronto, ON. Canada | 08/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As Renee Fleming conveyed her dramatic ability in "Homage The Age Of The Diva", she also demonstrates superb depth and intimacy in the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss! Fleming has outdone herself here, by the remarkable serenity she delivers throughout all of the songs. Fleming's musical output is enormously varied, and when she encounters Strauss's moments of operatic oeuvre, her expansive sound allows these moments to blossom with superb adore! Fleming's respect to the texts is quite distinguished. Her capacity for sublime melody and rhapsodic melodic variation, or "Schwung", is almost always strung together, and creates an element of fantasy or fable with real drive and eloquence. The Four Last Songs are, I think, Strauss's most perfect realization of the form. The songs are extremely difficult, but Fleming never hesitates in diction, expression or balance between herself and the ensemble, consequently never tearing the fabric, or rendering it banal and awkward. Even when Fleming is concluding, she lingers, moves, and sidesteps as if asking the songs to last a little longer. This is Fleming's way of linking herself to the modernist movement. It is strangely fitting that the last of the Songs,"Aberdrot," (At Dusk), is literally elegiac, but in fact opens out at the end, with a quizzical doubt as if the actual reality of ending--"can this perhaps be death?"- as if to suggest that it might not be! Throughout the Four Songs, and even the additional ones, Fleming's resolutely minute economy of aesthetic, makes her a sovereign, as well as a supreme figure, in the genre of post-Romanticism. In the surely, popular Der Rosenkavalier, Fleming comes to the forefront, conveying Strauss's own imaginary Rococo, Vienna style-veritably creating invitation to the waltz, its dance now sensuous, aristocratic. Steeped with nostalgia, Fleming's sensationalism provides a fairy-tale atmosphere that brings all the delights to an enlightened finale!
Author: Raymond Vacchino M.Mus.(MT) A.Mus. L.R.S.M. Licentiate (Honorary)"
Another 'Vier Letzte' for the Connoisseurs
Desert Girl | 10/27/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"What is great singing? In a general way, starting with the basic fach or vocal color/weight, which subtle qualities mysteriously inform and move the listener, we have the pear-shaped tones, those floating, spinning high notes, the legato line, supreme breath control, the seamless passaggio, the spot-on vibrato, and finally the inspired abandon of singer into song. I would say this album has everything listed above save for the last item. Technically Fleming is superior, but there is something too overmuch or studied about her approach to Vier Letzte, these difficult, elegantly fashioned, deeply moving songs. Fleming takes them at a slow pace, her phrasing exhibiting her tremendous breath. For me, there's too much rubato in Beim Schlafengehen, and the achingly beautiful violin part is much more effective when rhythmically contained. But this is a minor point. Fleming is full-voiced for sure, yet for me she lacks vocal lusciousness. She sounds strongest mid-voice, but her upper register is already growing warbled and uneven. But what extraordinary technique. My eyes welled with tears, not in Vier Letzte, but in Befreit, from the five Songs With Orchestra. Her reading of this tragic song with her powerful crescendo from pianissimo to triple forte on 'mir weinen' seems the most heartfelt vocal moment on the CD. I suppose a singer can consider her work well done if she draws a tear from the listener. The album ends with the well-loved Rosenkavalier Suite, performed with exuberance and poignant tenderness by the Houston Symphony Orchestra under conductor Christoph Eschenbach. Fleming is a maestra, no doubt."