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Strauss: Vier Letzte Lieder, Debussy: Arriettes oubliées - Stagg, Martin

Strauss: Vier Letzte Lieder, Debussy: Arriettes oubliées - Stagg, Martin

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra  MSO0001

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Siobhan Stagg (soprano)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Jaime Martín (conductor)


The first album released on the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra label, Chief Conductor Jaime Martín leads the MSO through Claude Debussy's Arriettes oubliées (arr. Brett Dean) and Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs.

Featuring the MSO 2023 Artist in Residence, Siobhan Stagg, these works will simply take your breath away.

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Review by Graham Williams - May 25, 2024

It would be hard to imagine a more auspicious start to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s new in-house label than the release of this marvellous 5.0 multi-channel SACD of two Debussy and Strauss song cycles featuring the young and supremely gifted Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg.

The six songs comprising Debussy’s ‘Ariettes oubliées’, based on poems by Paul Verlaine, were composed between 1885 and 1887 and are best known in the version for voice and piano. On this disc, however, they are performed in the orchestral version created by the Australian composer Brett Dean in 2015 at the suggestion of Magdalena Kožená and Sir Simon Rattle who together gave the first performance that year in Sydney. Dean based his scoring on that of ‘Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune’ and there can be little doubt that his sensitive and beguiling orchestration has perfectly encapsulated Debussy’s style.

Siobhan Stagg singing of these six songs, recorded live on 2nd and 3rd of March 2023 at the Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall is simply captivating throughout. From the opening of the first song, ‘C’est l’extase langoureuse’, the richness of her voice and its range is astonishing and one marvels at how she communicates the imagery of each of these brief, but exquisitely crafted, songs to the listener. The overtly cheerful and fourth song ‘Chevaux de Bois’ illustrates the imagination of Dean’s orchestration and the crisp orchestral playing of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under their Chief Conductor Jaime Martín, but also reveals Stagg’s ability to move effortlessly from joy to touching sadness in the final verse.

Ever since the first performance of Richard Strauss’s valedictory ‘Four Last Songs’ took place at the Royal Albert Hall, London on 22 May 1950, by Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, countless distinguished sopranos have committed their interpretations to disc. For many collectors, recordings by the triumvirate of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gundula Janowitz and Jessye Norman are regarded as unassailable, though there are many more names to add to the list, but I would venture to suggest that this new version from Siobhan Stagg is worthy of joining the finest interpreters of these sublime songs.

The high tessitura of the first song ‘Frühling’ proves no challenge to Stagg’s luxuriant soprano and with her fine diction she projects the text with absolute clarity and radiant vocalisation. ‘September’ is delivered with achingly beautiful tone and her moving delivery of the song’s final lines ‘Langsam tut er die Müdgewordnen Augen zu.’ are illustrative of her phenomenal breath control in these songs. In ‘Beim Schlafengehen’, arguably the loveliest song of the cycle, Stagg’s voice soars thrillingly over the orchestra, matching the ethereal violin solo that precedes the final verse. Finally, ‘Im Abendrot’ (taken by the conductor at a spacious though not over indulgent tempo) is afforded a touchingly rapt reading – the crowning glory of Siobhan Stagg’s performance. The Strauss was recorded live in February 2023, a few days before the Debussy.

The disc is presented with illuminating liner notes on the music by Benjamin Pesetsky, biographies of the performers and full French/English texts (Debussy) and German /English texts (Strauss) and while some eyebrows might be raised at the playing time of 39 minutes, it is fair to say that quantity will never eclipse quality. The experienced Ingo Petry (Take 5 Music Production) is listed as the Recording Producer as well as being responsible for mixing and mastering while Jonathan Stokes (Classic Sound) carried out the SACD mastering.

This SACD has hardly been out of my player since I received it and I can’t urge you strongly enough to add it to your collection irrespective of how many recordings of the Strauss you already own.

Copyright © 2024 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comments (8)
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Comment by hiredfox - May 6, 2024 (1 of 8)

Is this another collaboration with LSO Live in similar vein to The Mariinsky and NSO labels?

Comment by Steven Harrison - May 11, 2024 (2 of 8)

As it happens, I attended the MSO yesterday for a Debussy and Strauss concert, not the ones on this recording. New conductor Jaime Martin is just fabulous with everything.
I do not live in metropolitan Melbourne. I live an hour's train ride away. But I do attend concerts on occasion. I have been attending more lately with the arrival of Maestro Martin. He makes everything just shine!!!!
And now we have the first sacd on the MSO label. It is available from May 31 on the orchestral website.

As to any connection to LSO Live, perhaps that will be clearer once I get the disc and read the booklet.
However, both those noted associations were with LSO conductors. I don't believe that Jaime Martin is affiliated with the LSO.

In the past the Melbourne Symphony released sacds on Chandos. But that all is a fair while ago.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - May 12, 2024 (3 of 8)

Thanks, Steven for your comments. I listened to snippets on Presto. What a beautiful voice! I ordered through Amazon.fr (évidemment!)

Comment by hiredfox - May 13, 2024 (4 of 8)

Well, 'yes' is the answer to my own earlier question! All explained here;

https://www.mso.com.au/media-centre/press-releases/melbourne-symphony-orchestra-launches-in-house-record-label-in-partnership-with-lso-live
o go

Evidently the LSO Live model works financially and artistically so it's a no-brainer for other progressive orchestras to follow their model. Sadly, the geopolitical situation in Europe has robbed us of the Mariinsky label but good to see the NSO in Washington DC and now Melbourne are keeping the faith. As mainstream music labels give up on SACD this may be the way for others to go.

Comment by Steven Harrison - May 13, 2024 (5 of 8)

HF, Thanks for that.
BTW, your link didn't work for me, but I found the article on the orchestra website and have pasted it below:

https://www.mso.com.au/media-centre/press-releases/melbourne-symphony-orchestra-launches-in-house-record-label-in-partnership-with-lso-live

This is really just the best news!!!!
Jaime Martin has really lifted the playing of the orchestra, and now everyone everywhere will be able to hear for themselves.

FWIW, going to yet another concert later this week. However, it will be with a different conductor. Still, I suspect the orchestra will play at the same high level.

Comment by Graham Williams - May 14, 2024 (6 of 8)

Debussy & Strauss is the first release of recordings stemming from a new production and distribution partnership, signed in December 2022, between the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra(MSO) and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).Chief Conductor Jaime Martín praises the new release. “The Strauss and Debussy concerts with the incredible Siobhan Stagg were among my personal highlights of 2023,” says Martín. “Our partnership with the LSO means that the first recording on our new label will receive international distribution and promotion, allowing the MSO to share this wonderful music with the largest possible audience.”
 

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - June 6, 2024 (7 of 8)

Like no doubt for so many, my long-term favourite recording of the ‘Vier Letzte Lieder’ is the one with Jessey Norman (RBCD Philips 411 052-2), but it is getting dated. A comparable one in high resolution would, therefore, be most welcome. I had high hopes for this latest addition. Listening to available snippets I liked the beautiful voice of Siobhan Stagg. Now that I’ve received my copy and compared it with other renditions on my shelves (Harteros, Röschmann, Norman, Brewer) I’m less positively inclined.

As Graham pointed out, there is much to go for, but it doesn’t replace Christine Brewer with the superior Atlanta Symphony, recorded in native DSD, whose voice carries in my view more compassionate weight (Telarc SACD-50661). I did not notice any excessive reverb in the surround as some but not all have complained about (different batch?).

As for Debussy, Graham’s review is spot on. There is no competition.

A final remark: There may not be a measure on quality, but I find 39 minutes a bit frugal.

Comment by hiredfox - June 7, 2024 (8 of 8)

By wide consensus, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's 1953 recording of Vier Letzte Lieder has been the outstanding choice for this work and virtually unchallenged ever since although she re-recorded it later c 1965.


Strauss: Vier Letzte Lieder - Schwarzkopf, Szell


Like Adrian I was tempted by this new release, partly it must be said to support a new label but his comment about Vier Letzte Lieder has tempered my enthusiasm somewhat. SACD are not cheap anymore.