(1864 – 1949)
Three Hymns and Opera Arias
Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60:-
Ein Schönes war (Ariadne) [5:51]
Es gibt ein Reich (Ariadne) [5:13]
Three Hymns, Op. 71
1. Hymne an die Liebe [8:42]
2. Rückkehr in die Heimat [7:04]
3. Die Liebe [6:28]
Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59:-
Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding (Marschallin) [2:38]
Da geht er hin (Marschallin) [4:51]
Capriccio, Op. 85 - Closing scene (Countess) [19:59]
Soile Isokoski (soprano)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Okko Kamu
rec. Helsinki Music Centre, 17-18 and 20 April 2012.
Texts with English translations enclosed
ONDINE ODE 1202-2 [61:21]
Soile Isokoski won second prize in the BBC Singer of the World
competition in Cardiff in 1987. She then entered a highly successful
career as opera singer, first at the Finnish National Opera
– to which she regularly returns– and then conquering the stages
of the rest of the world. She has wisely ‘hurried slowly’, choosing
roles within the lyrical repertoire. Only gradually has she
progressed to slightly heavier things but has never essayed
the voice-killers. Mozart and Strauss are high on her list,
Marguerite in Faust and Tatiana in Eugene Onegin
are other favourites. She has also sung the two light Wagner
roles: Elsa in Lohengrin and Eva in Meistersinger.
On Ondine she has recorded Strauss’s orchestral songs, including
Vier letzte Lieder, a disc that was universally praised
when it was issued in 2002. Last year (2011) a disc with piano
accompanied Lieder was also acclaimed by reviewers. Now comes
her third Strauss disc. Rubbing shoulders with excerpts from
three of the four Strauss operas that are in her stage repertoire
(the fourth is Daphne), are the rarely heard Drei
Hymne Op. 71. From the mid-1880s until the early 1900s
Strauss composed a large number of songs but then turned to
opera for more than fifteen years and didn’t return to songs
until the end of the war. In 1918 came the six Brentano songs
and the twelve songs comprising Krämerspiegel, together
with Five little songs (none well known) and Six
songs for high voice and piano (including three songs of
Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Then, after a single Sinnspruch
in 1919, another two years passed with little compositional
activity. This was the period when he took over the management
of the Vienna State Opera and was fully occupied with administrative
work. In 1921 he found time to write the Three Hymns
to texts by Friedrich Hölderlin, born the same year as Beethoven
(1770). They are long and, textually, rather bombastic but musically
are wholly engaging. Strauss’s orchestra is as colourful and
atmospheric as ever. These are grand and dramatic compositions,
calling for a large operatic voice. The premiere was given in
1922 by Barbara Kemp, then one of the leading Wagner sopranos.
Soile Isokoski is no Wagner soprano but she is a Strauss soprano,
she knows her capacity and sings with her usual silvery tone
and total conviction. Even though these hymns linger in the
shade of Vier letzte Lieder and other orchestral songs
also in the future it is good to have them in such fine readings.
It should be added that there have been other recordings that
I haven’t heard. Felicity Lott recorded two volumes of his orchestral
songs in the 1990s and in volume 2 the hymns are included. I
only have volume 1. On Nightingale all the orchestral songs
were issued in a 3-CD box that was awarded the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis.
Edita Gruberova and Judith Howarth were among the singers. There
may be other recordings as well.
Moving over now to the opera excerpts I am well stocked with
recordings of Ariadne auf Naxos, where the title role
is sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gundula Janowitz, Jessye Norman,
Deborah Voigt and Christine Brewer. All of them are good and
which one I prefer varies with my mood. Janowitz is the one
I return to most frequently. Hearing Isokoski’s Ein Schönes
war, so luminous and warm, this is even closer to the ideal.
Es gibt ein Reich is just as marvellous.
As it happened I listened to Brilliant Classics’ reissue of
the Philips recording of Der Rosenkavalier from 1976
just hours before I played this present disc. On the old set
Evelyn Lear was a great surprise as Marschallin, singing with
deep and impeccable feeling for the text and the music. Isokoski
probes even deeper, singing with more face. Her warm but glittering
timbre makes the ‘time’ monologue even more touching. I may
be affected by having seen Isokoski in the role but I don’t
think this is the only reason. In the earlier monologue – which
on this disc comes second – she recalls the young woman who
came fresh from the convent and was ordered into holy matrimony.
She looks in the mirror, saying: Wo ist die jetzt?(Where
is she now?), sighs, and continues: such’ dir den Schnee
vom vergangenen Jahr (look for the snows of yesteryear).
One hears her resignation, her thought that ‘one day I’ll be
an old woman’. This is not only sensitive singing but even more
a psychological portrait of Marie Therese. In a flash she sees
both the past and the future in one picture, underpinned by
the music. This is opera at its most subtle.
Much the same can be said about the long closing scene from
Capriccio. The two Elisabeths, Schwarzkopf and Söderström
with rare insights into the predicaments of Madeleine, have
long been my touchstone interpretations. They remain so but
are now joined by Soile Isokoski. Truth to tell there are signs
of strain in some high-lying passages, but this is still Strauss
singing of the highest order.
Ondine’s recording is excellent. The Helsinki Philharmonic play
extremely well under the inspired direction of veteran Okko
Kamu. The orchestral introduction to the Capriccio
is ravishing. As with the two previous Strauss recitals by Soile
Isokoski this is a disc not to be missed.