The Four Last Songs are by far his most famous, but before those late masterpieces, Richard Strauss wrote dozens of other orchestral songs – some conceived as such, others orchestrations of his songs for piano and voice.
Strauss’s lifelong love affair with the female voice is as apparent here as in his operas, and in this new collection Diana Damrau repays his affection in full with a ravishing set of performances. The silvery tone and effervescent charisma which have brought Damrau such acclaim as Strauss’s Sophie and Zerbinetta carry well into his songs, and her natural exuberance – so well suited to comic heroines – is tempered with sincere expression. The coloratura-filled Brentano-Lieder are a natural choice, of course, and Damrau doesn’t disappoint (her Säusle, liebe Myrte is especially enchanting) but she’s equally impressive in darker, less showy songs, including a moving account of the stormy, seven-minute-long Lied der Frauen.
Perhaps loveliest of all are Damrau’s accounts of songs from mother to child: Wiegenlied, Meinem Kinde and the irresistible Muttertändelei are delivered with touching warmth and tenderness. The oft-recorded favourites are here too, and while Morgen! and Allerseelen might demand a maturer sound, Damrau’s delivery lends a note of youthful ardour to Cäcilie and Zueignung.
Christian Thielemann and the Münchner Philharmoniker know their Strauss at least as well as Damrau – probably better – and their playing is an ideal partner-in-rapture, drawing out the ecstasy, agony and operatic echoes of these orchestrations with idiomatic ease.