Richard Strauss: Notturno

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings of Strauss’s complete lieder may
have set the benchmark (the EMI Classic 6-CD set was re-released in August 2013
on the Warner Classics Budget Boxes label), but Hampson has established himself
as one of the foremost interpreters of the German Romantic repertory; and,
following his much-admired 2011 recording of Mahler’s Des Knaben
, here the American baritone celebrates Strauss’s
150th anniversary with an imaginative recording which takes the
listener on a tour through the composer’s life and confirms Hampson’s
discernment and sensitivity to this idiom and language.

We begin with two early songs from the Op.10 (1885) settings of Hermann von
Gilm zu Rosenegg. Though, like most of these songs, they are only a few minutes
in length ‘Zueignung’ (Dedication) and ‘Die Nacht’ demonstrate
Hampson’s directness in conveying the young composer’s rapturous moods; the
voice may itself have lost some of its youthful bloom but there is great
character and richness, an intelligent sense of musical line, and a strength
and brightness at the top which brings vigour and ardour. Hampson is also,
throughout the recording, superbly attentive to the German text. Pianist
Wolfram Rieger is an eloquent partner, providing a warm foundation in the
subdued passages, the delicate inter-phrase commentaries well-shaped.

Though many share a brooding intensity, these songs are by no means singular
in mood and Hampson is alert to this variety and — in ‘Winternacht’, for
example, with its graphic response to Adolf Friedrich von Schack’s nature
imagery — to Strauss’s overt word-painting. Strauss’s setting of Felix
Dahn’s ‘Ach weh mir ungl¸ckhaftem Mann’ (Alas I am an unlucky man)
expands the lyric intensity into dramatic realms and Hampson’s baritone
assumes a more operatic quality. The song’s direct speech is delivered with
immediacy, Hampson finding a dreamy softness for the maiden’s imagined
question, ‘Was soll der groflen Rosenstraufl,/ die Schimmel an dem Wagen?’
(‘What are you doing with this large bouquet of roses, and these white horses
and carriage?’), while Rieger summons the energy of the trotting horses with
their clanging bells and the crack of the rider’s whip with Èclat.

The elongated vowels of Karl Friedrich Henckell’s brief poetic phrases
form extended, searching melodic lines in ‘Ruhe, meine Seele’ (Rest, my
soul). As the poet-speaker seeks peace in a tumultuous world, Hampson’s
baritone rises with surprising urgency and distress — Diese Zeiten/ Sind
gewaltig,/ Bringen Herz/ Und Hirn in Not’ (These times are powerful, bring
torment to heart and mind) — before the piano postlude gently quells the

Both performers surmount the technical challenges of ‘Heimliche
Aufforderung’ (Secret Invitation) with accomplishment, Hampson surely
negotiating the unpredictable melodic twists and turns while Rieger captures
the ever-changing moods in the accompaniment. The poet-speaker’s yearning for
the longed-for ‘wondrous night’ (‘O komme, du wunderbare, ersehnte
Nacht!’) is rich and radiant; in contrast, ‘Morgen’, presaged by
Rieger’s articulate introduction, is wonderfully intimate, the voice
shimmering gently as Hampson dreams of ‘tomorrow’, when the ‘silence of
happiness’ will settle upon the lovers. ‘Traum durch die D‰mmerung’
begins with the still composure of a lullaby but surges impassionedly, before
closing with an ethereal whisper, as the poet-speaker is drawn ‘through the
grey twilight to the land of love, into a blue, mild light’ (‘durch
D‰mmergrau in der Liebe Land,/ in ein mildes, blaues Licht’).

Three songs from the last few years of the nineteenth century capture three
different and quintessential Straussian moods: the sincerity and wistful
melancholy of Detlev von Liliencron’s poetry in ‘Sehnsucht’ (1896), with
its quiet, declamatory opening and wonderfully floating closing phrase, is
complemented by the buoyant, pure joy of ‘Das Rosenband’ (Ribbons of roses)
(Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, 1897), which in turn fades into the bitter-sweet
passion of ‘Befreit’ (Released) (Richard Dehmel, 1898). In the latter, the
baritone melody is skilfully crafted, building in concentration, powerfully
projected. Indeed, Hampson’s thoughtful shaping of each individual narrative
is impressive; the tempi are well-chosen, perfectly matched to sentiment, and
the feelings and dramas that unfold are convincing and engrossing.

By 1929 Strauss had his great operatic successes behind him and it is
perhaps not surprising that the Op.87 R¸ckert settings of that year are
grander in scale. A reflection on approaching old age, ‘Vom k¸nftigen
Alter’ is characterised by a quasi-orchestral rhetoric in the accompaniment,
and Rieger relishes the contrasts between the sweeping flourishes in the right
hand and more subdued passages which intimate the waning of the
poet-speaker’s youthful vigour and the pallor of the fading roses. In ‘Und
dann nicht mehr’ (And then no more), Hampson’s outpouring of regret for an
irretrievable moment is spacious and even, each statement of R¸ckert’s
oft-repeated refrain imbued with an individual hue and complemented by the
vivid piano commentary. ‘Im Sonnenschein’ (In the sunshine) sweeps elatedly
to the final couplet, ‘Ich geh’, die s¸fle M¸digkeit des Lebens nun
auszuruhn,/ Die Lust, den Gram der Erde nun auszuheilen im Sonnenschein’ (I
go now; let the sweet weariness of life rest now, and let the pleasure and
sadness of the earth heal now in the sunshine), in which the broadening of the
tempo and the openness of the baritone melody wonderfully capture a sense of
the composer’s love of life.

The title song, ‘Notturno’ (1899), is the longest and probably the least
well-known of this selection. In this powerful miniature drama, originally
composed for voice and orchestra, Hampson and Rieger are joined by violinist
Daniel Hope, the latter representing the figure of Death who appears as a
nocturnal fiddle player who haunts a troubled dreamer. The song showcases
Hampson’s control and range, of register and of colour — especially the
mahogany richness of the bottom; Hope’s rhapsodic interjections are
entrancing. If the song’s melodic invention is less appealing than in some of
the other songs, the performance is still a captivating one.

This is a very valuable contribution to the Strauss celebrations this year.
Though there is a pleasing generous acoustic, the recording does perhaps favour
the voice and there are times when the piano accompaniment lacks clarity in the
middle and lower registers; but, Hampson’s impeccable diction and intelligent
interpretation, and Rieger’s attentive, persuasive accompaniments, work
together to produce performances which are unfailingly absorbing and sincere.

Claire Seymour


Richard Strauss (1864-1949): ‘Zueignung’ Op.10 No.1 (1885),
‘Die Nacht’ Op.10 No.3 (1885), ‘Winternacht’ Op.15 No.2 (1886), ‘Mein
Herz ist stumm’, Op.19 No.6 (1888), ‘Ach weh mir ungl¸ckhaftem Mann’
Op.21 No.4 (1889), ‘Ruhe, meine Seele’ Op.27 No.1 (1894), ‘Heimliche
Aufforderung’ Op.27, No.3 (1894), ‘Morgen’ Op.27 No. 4 (1894), ‘Traum
durch die D‰mmerung’ Op.29. No.1 (1895), ‘Sehnsucht’ Op.32 No.2 (1896),
‘Das Rosenband’ Op.36 No.1 (1897), ‘Befreit’ Op.39 No.4 (1898),
‘Notturno’ Op.44 No.1 (1899), ‘Freundliche Vision’ Op.48 No.1 (1901),
‘Die heiligen drei Kˆnige aus Morgenland’ Op.56 No.6 (1904-06), ‘Vom
k¸nftigen Alter’ Op.87 No.1 (1929), ‘Und dann nicht mehr’ Op.87 No.3
(1929), ‘Im Sonnenschein’ Op.87 No.4 (1929).

image_description=Richard Strauss: Notturno
product_title=Richard Strauss: Notturno
product_by=Thomas Hampson, baritone; Wolfram Rieger, piano; Daniel Hope, violin.
product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 0289 479 2943 7 CD DDD GH [CD]