This is a beautifully-recorded, carefully programmed disc of Richard Strauss. It is Robin Ticciati's fifth recording with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin: full of passion, yet with terrific detail, much of the release has the feeling of a live performance about it. Not least in the opening Don Juan, colourful storytelling in music, the orchestra's rich sound perfect for this repertoire. Here's the conductor, Robin Ticciati, to introduce the recording:
Ticciati talks of the contrast between the swashbuckling Don Juan and the awareness of mortality in Tod und Verklärung - the the valiance of youth as against "stutter" of someone's last moments. Perhaps he is also pitting the perceived indestructibility of youth against the reality of the ageing process and the inevitable approach and passing through the doorway to the beyond.
The recording, Produced and Engineered by the justifiably respected Philip Hobbs, is exceptional in its scope, dynamic range and detail. The opening of Tod und Verklärung emerges from nothingness, the control of the German orchestra brilliantly revealed. The sweetness of the solo violin in the opening section is remarkable, the power of the orchestra later near-overwhelming. But it is Ticciati's structural ear that is most impressive, his grasp of the entire score: the end is in sight from the beginning. One of the finest accounts out there.
But it is perhaps the appearance of Louise Alder that is the greatest cause for celebration. My previous experiences of her have all been in Mozart: a terrific Susanna Figaro at English National Opera (review); and a lovely Zerlina Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House, a beacon of light in a rather grim evening (the grimness thanks to the conductor: review). Mozart and Richard Strauss are often mentioned together in the same breath - one immediately thinks of the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, equally at home in both. Perhaps the beauty of Alder's voice brought about the comparison, too; she is as agile as they come, and perfectly attuned (remember Alder sang Sophie Rosenkavalier - to Kate Royal's Countess - under Ticciati at Glyndebourne and at the Proms in 2014).
Strauss' Six Songs, Op. 26 are also sometimes known as the Brentano-Lieder (after the poet that provided the words, Clemens Brentano, 1778-1842). There is a freshness and freedom to Alder's voice that captures the spirit of these songs impeccably; Ticciati is the perfect musical partner. Clearly, after their Rosenkavalier experiences, they sing from the same Lieder sheet (sorry). Love, Nature and spirituality are the themes of the first five songs (and how agile Alder is in the fifth, "Amor"); the final offering, "Lied der Frauen," (Song of the Women) takes us into a different world, dark, glowering, containing the most astonishing harmonic explorations, and in a sense the perfect link to the Tod und Verklärung to follow. Let's hear these two final songs. First, "Amor":
Now, the wonderful "Lied der Frauen":
We should not forget Alder's previous release of Strauss songs, this time with Joseph Middleton on piano, on Orchid Classics. But there's something about this performance with orchestra of the Brentano-Lieder that confirms Alder's status as a major star in the vocal firmament. This isn't so much "a star is born," as "a star is confirmed".
A well-timed post, this: just the day before it was published, the Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchestster Berlin tweeted (@DSOBerlin) that Maestro Ticciati has extended his contract as Artistic Director for another five years, which means he will lead the orchestra until 2027 at least.
At the time of writing, this disc is on special offer at reduced price on Amazon via the link below (it was released on September 11, just a few days ago):