Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

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Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by Lance » Tue Sep 02, 2014 1:17 am

Inspired by another thread on CMG, I was looking through my favourite works of his, among whish is first and foremost, his FOUR LAST SONGS, Op. Posth. Wiki has this to say about it:

Four Last Songs (German: Vier letzte Lieder), Op. posth., for soprano and orchestra are the final completed works of Richard Strauss, composed in 1948 when the composer was 84. The songs are "Frühling" (Spring), "September", "Beim Schlafengehen" (When Falling Asleep) and "Im Abendrot" (At Sunset).

Strauss died in September 1949. The premiere was given posthumously at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 22 May 1950 by the soprano Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Strauss had come across the poem Im Abendrot by Joseph von Eichendorff, which he felt had a special meaning for him. He set its text to music in May 1948. Strauss had also recently been given a copy of the complete poems of Hermann Hesse, and he set three of them – Frühling, September, and Beim Schlafengehen – for soprano and orchestra. (According to Arnold, a fifth song was unfinished at Strauss's death.)

There is no indication that Strauss conceived these songs as a unified set. In dictionaries published as late as 1954, the three Hesse songs were still listed as a group, separate from the earlier Eichendorff setting. The overall title Four Last Songs was provided by his friend Ernst Roth, the chief editor of Boosey & Hawkes [music publishing company]. It was Roth who categorized them as a single unit with the title Four Last Songs, and put them into the order that most performances now follow: Frühling, September, Beim Schlafengehen, Im Abendrot.

It has been reasoned by Timothy L. Jackson that the song Ruhe, meine Seele! should join the other four as a prelude to Im Abendrot.

The order of composition is neither identical with the order of (posthumous) publication or (posthumous) premiere performance. Lisa Della Casa's recording [Decca] conducted by Karl Böhm again offered a different order of songs.


These are the renditions I have. My most favoured ones are shown in red. Some things (conductors/orchestra/pianists) may be missing and will be filled in later.

•Sony - Lucia Popp, soprano; LSO, M. T. Thomas, cond.
•Decca - Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano; VPO, Solti, cond.
•Decca - Kirsten Flagstad, soprano; E. McArthur, piano
•Decca - Lisa Della Casa, soprano; K. Bohm, cond.
•Decca - Reneé Fleming, soprano; Munich Philharmonic, Thielemann, cond.
•Decca - Barbara Bonney, soprano; Malcolm Martineau, piano
•DGG - Anna Tomowa-Simkow, soprano; von Karajan, cond.
•DGG - Cheryl Studer, soprano; Sinopoli, cond.
•DGG - Gundula Janowitz, soprano; von Karajan, cond.
•DGG - Lisa Della Casa, soprano; K. Bohm, cond.
•EMI - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Szell, cond. (LSO)
•EMI - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Ackermann, cond.
•EMI - Sena Jurinac, soprano; F. Busch, cond.
•EMI - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; von Karajan, cond.
•EMI - Lucia Popp, soprano; LPO/Tennstedt, cond.
•EMI/Electrola - Anneliese Rothenberger, soprano; LSO/A. Previn, cond. [EMI-Electrola 23556]
•Erato - Montserrat Caballé, soprano; A. Lombard, cond.
•Philips - Jessye Norman, soprano; Leipzig GHO, Masur, cond.
•RCA - Reneé Fleming, soprano; Houston SO/C. Eschenbach, cond.
•RCA - Leontyne Price, soprano; Leinsdorf, cond.
•ABC Classics (Australia) - Yvonne Kenny, soprano; Johannes Fritzsch, cond.
•Audiophile Classics - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Concertgebouw/Szell, cond. (live)
•BBC Legends - Sena Jurinac, soprano; Sargent, cond. (live)
•BBC Legends - Elisabeth Soderstrom, soprano; J. Pritchard, cond (live)
•Bluebell - Birgit Nilsson, soprano; G. Parsons, piano (live)
•Gebhart - Kirsten Flagstad, soprano; Furtwangler, cond (live 1950)
•Haydn House/Westminster - Teresa Stich-Randall, soprano; Somogyi, cond.
•Melodram - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Cleveland Orch/Szell, cond (live)
•Opening Day - Daniel Lichti, tenor; J. Fialkowska, piano
•Preiser - Gabriele Fontana, soprano; Erik Werba, piano (Werba's piano transcription auth. by Strauss)
•Ponto - Inge Borkh, soprano; F. Leitner, cond.
•Telarc - Arleen Auger, soprano; Vienna PO/A. Previn, cond.
•Testament - Kirsten Flagstad, soprano; Furtwangler, cond. {World Prem. Performance 1950}
•Telarc - Christine Brewer, soprano; Atlanta SO/Runnicles, cond.
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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by John F » Tue Sep 02, 2014 4:47 am

Lance and I hear alike. The 1953 Decca/London recording with Lisa Della Casa and the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Karl Böhm is incomparably beautiful, and anyone who cares about this music should have it. Fortunately, you don't have to buy it, as it's on YouTube.



Haven't heard his other favorites, Jessye Norman and Christine Brewer. My first thought is that fine singers though they are, they're vocally a bit heavyweight for these songs, as was Kirsten Flagstad in the premiere - and I can't imagine Birgit Nilsson singing them. But of course I could be wrong.
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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by stenka razin » Tue Sep 02, 2014 7:16 am

I agree about Della Casa at the top, but I must also include Schwarzkopf, preferably in her recording with Otto Ackermann.


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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by Ted Quanrud » Tue Sep 02, 2014 10:46 pm

If my family ever needs proof of my insanity in an effort to have me committed, they can offer my collection of 50 recordings of Vier letzte lieder as Exhibit A. Don't ask about why I have this obsession; I don't understand it myself, but I certainly enjoy it.

Here goes:
Auger - Previn - Telarc
Bonney - Martineau (pf) - London
Brewer - Runnicles -Telarc
Caballe - Lombard - Erato
Della Casa - Bohm -London
Diener - Zinman - Arte Nova
Eaglen - Runnicles - Sony
Flagstad - Furtwangler - Testament
Fleming - Eschenbach - RCA
Fleming - Thielemann - Decca
Harper - Hickox - EMI (CfP)
Harteros - Jansons - BR Klassic
Harteros - Luisi - Sony
Hendricks - Sawallisch - EMI
Isokoski - Janowski - Ondine
Janowitz - von Karajan - DGG
Jurinac - Busch - EMI
Jurinac - Sargent - BBC
Kaune - Oue - Berlin Classics
Kenny - Fritzsch - ABC Classics
Lear - Bohm - VAI
Lott - Jarvi - Chandos
Margiono - de Waart - Brilliant
Marton - Davis - Sony
Mattila - Abbado - DGG
Merbeth - Halasz - Naxos
Meyer-Topsoe Bihlmaier - Kontrapunkt
Nilsson - Segerstam - Bluebell
Norman - Masur - Philips
Popp - Thomas - Sony
Popp - Tennstedt - EMI (Seraphim)
Price - Leinsdorf - RCA
Roschmann - Nezet-Seguin - BIS
Rothenberger - Previn - EMI (LP)
Sass - Lukas - Hungaroton
Schwanewilms - Elder - BBC
Schwanewilms - Stenz - Orfeo
Schwarzkopf - von Karajan - EMI
Schwarzkopf - Ackermann - EMI
Schwarzkopf - Szell - EMI
Soderstrom - Dorati - BBC
Soderstrom - Haitink - NM
Steber - Levine - Video Artists
Stemme - Pappano - EMI
Studer - Sinopoli - DGG
Te Kanawa - Davis - Sony
Te Kanawa - Solti - Decca
Tomowa-Simtow - von Karajan - DGG
Voigt - Masur Teldec
Welitsch - Ulanowsky (piano) CBS

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Sep 03, 2014 2:38 am

Ted Quanrud wrote:If my family ever needs proof of my insanity in an effort to have me committed, they can offer my collection of 50 recordings of Vier letzte lieder as Exhibit A. Don't ask about why I have this obsession; I don't understand it myself, but I certainly enjoy it.
Clearly, your unfettered soul wishes to soar up freely into night’s magic sphere to live there deeply and thousandfold. :wink:

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by barney » Wed Sep 03, 2014 3:53 am

Ted Quanrud wrote:If my family ever needs proof of my insanity in an effort to have me committed, they can offer my collection of 50 recordings of Vier letzte lieder as Exhibit A. Don't ask about why I have this obsession; I don't understand it myself, but I certainly enjoy it.
This would be one of the very rare times that someone has more - considerably more - interpretations than Lance, whose collection is still impressive.
I have eight catalogued, but am about 1000 CDs behind in that and think I have another 3 or 4. I had a little 4 Last Songs expansion late last year.
Here are those that are catalogued:

Schwarzkopf/Ackermann
Schwarzkopf/Szell
Janowitz/Haitink
Norman/Masur
Te Kanawa/Davis
Te Kanawa/Solti
Fleming/thieleman
Kenny/Fritsch

Obviously not nearly enough. The first five are the ones I tend to listen to.
But Iam very much looking forward to listening to della Casa on that youtube link, and thank you John.

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by maestrob » Wed Sep 03, 2014 11:44 am

Strauss's Four Last Songs are some of the greatest music written in the last century. Unfortunately, their high tessitura didn't suit Flagstadt's Wagnerian voice (I have a live 1953 recording in excellent sound): she was much better in the Wesendonk Lieder.

Am not fond of Masur's rather sloppy conducting in Jessye Norman's recording, but vocally she's ideal for the set.

Lucia Popp is a favorite of mine: she had an outstanding instrument suited to Der holle Rache as well as Dich, teure Halle. If you don't know this singer, grab the EMI bargain set of 7CDs.

I fell in love with Gundula Janowitz under HVK on DGG when it first came out, and it remains a favorite as does Schwarzkopf/Szell.

Fleming's two commercial attempts don't make the grade for me, but I blame the conducting (Eschenbach and Thielemann). There was also a telecast that might be findable on youtube with Eschenbach/Philadelphia: absolutely exquisite.

Then there is a new recording by Aga Mikolaj that I've mentioned before on this board: she is absolutely exquisite, and I never tire of her deeply moving interpretation. Grab this while it's still in print.

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Sep 03, 2014 3:23 pm

I don't have time to list them, but I have more than forty recordings.

I started with Schwarzkopf and Szell, I kept looking for better, knowing they must exist.

Della Casa, Janowitz, Della Casa, would be my top three.

Yes, I realize Karajan conducts in my second choice, but this proves I do listen to his conducting on occasion, if the recording merits.
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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by Lance » Wed Sep 03, 2014 3:46 pm

Wonderful collection, Ted. Seeing yours, I know I missed a few in my lineup, which will be corrected! STUNNING work!
Ted Quanrud wrote:If my family ever needs proof of my insanity in an effort to have me committed, they can offer my collection of 50 recordings of Vier letzte lieder as Exhibit A. Don't ask about why I have this obsession; I don't understand it myself, but I certainly enjoy it.

Here goes:
Auger - Previn - Telarc
Bonney - Martineau (pf) - London
Brewer - Runnicles -Telarc
Caballe - Lombard - Erato
Della Casa - Bohm -London
Diener - Zinman - Arte Nova
Eaglen - Runnicles - Sony
Flagstad - Furtwangler - Testament
Fleming - Eschenbach - RCA
Fleming - Thielemann - Decca
Harper - Hickox - EMI (CfP)
Harteros - Jansons - BR Klassic
Harteros - Luisi - Sony
Hendricks - Sawallisch - EMI
Isokoski - Janowski - Ondine
Janowitz - von Karajan - DGG
Jurinac - Busch - EMI
Jurinac - Sargent - BBC
Kaune - Oue - Berlin Classics
Kenny - Fritzsch - ABC Classics
Lear - Bohm - VAI
Lott - Jarvi - Chandos
Margiono - de Waart - Brilliant
Marton - Davis - Sony
Mattila - Abbado - DGG
Merbeth - Halasz - Naxos
Meyer-Topsoe Bihlmaier - Kontrapunkt
Nilsson - Segerstam - Bluebell
Norman - Masur - Philips
Popp - Thomas - Sony
Popp - Tennstedt - EMI (Seraphim)
Price - Leinsdorf - RCA
Roschmann - Nezet-Seguin - BIS
Rothenberger - Previn - EMI (LP)
Sass - Lukas - Hungaroton
Schwanewilms - Elder - BBC
Schwanewilms - Stenz - Orfeo
Schwarzkopf - von Karajan - EMI
Schwarzkopf - Ackermann - EMI
Schwarzkopf - Szell - EMI
Soderstrom - Dorati - BBC
Soderstrom - Haitink - NM
Steber - Levine - Video Artists
Stemme - Pappano - EMI
Studer - Sinopoli - DGG
Te Kanawa - Davis - Sony
Te Kanawa - Solti - Decca
Tomowa-Simtow - von Karajan - DGG
Voigt - Masur Teldec
Welitsch - Ulanowsky (piano) CBS
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by SONNET CLV » Wed Sep 03, 2014 10:59 pm

Ted Quanrud wrote:If my family ever needs proof of my insanity in an effort to have me committed, they can offer my collection of 50 recordings of Vier letzte lieder as Exhibit A. Don't ask about why I have this obsession; I don't understand it myself, but I certainly enjoy it.

Here goes:
Auger - Previn - Telarc
et al.

So ... perhaps we should retitle your obsession Zweihundert letzte Lieder ... und Zählen!

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by josé echenique » Thu Sep 04, 2014 5:48 pm

I also have some 30 plus recordings, most of them already mentioned, and as popular wisdom dictates it´s Lisa della Casa´s glorious DECCA recording the obvious library choice. I can´t say I´m a big fan of Schwarzkopf´s, but if you have to have her I prefer the first to the second recording. The very first time I heard Jessye Norman live was in the mid 70´s in Copenhagen singing the 4 Last Songs, her recording is way too slow for comfort, and although the voice is very great I think Strauss calls for a more luminous and bright voice, maybe the same thing could be said of her Ariadne.
Lucia Popp I agree is quite special, maybe live her voice might have been a little light, but in studio conditions she gives a very moving performance. But we all must have a special affection for a certain recording for different reasons. Mine is Anna Tomowa-Sintow´s. I find her recording breathtakingly beautiful, sure the same can be said of Janowitz, but Tomowa-Sintow is both warmer and more autumnal, which suits the music very well. Unfortunately as in most of his late recordings, Karajan did some strange things with the recording levels, but there´s no denying that the BPO plays gloriously.

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by jserraglio » Fri Sep 05, 2014 5:18 pm

"Im Abendrot" haunts Michael Winterbottom's happy/sad new movie The Trip to Italy. The Jessye Norman recording?

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by Lance » Tue Sep 23, 2014 12:59 pm

Added some others to this thread. Such a glorious cycle! Either with piano or orchestra.
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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by CharmNewton » Sun Sep 28, 2014 9:48 pm

Lance wrote:•EMI/Electrola - Anneliese Rothenberger, soprano; Erik Werba, piano (Werba's piano transcription auth by Strauss)
This is a recording I haven't encountered before. Is this a CD or LP? Do you have a catalog number for it?

Thanks,

John

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by John F » Mon Sep 29, 2014 2:18 am

Really, these songs lose something essential when reduced from orchestral to piano accompaniment. The only reason ever to perform them that way would be to include them in a recital, and that doesn't apply to recordings. Strauss prepared no such version himself, though he very likely composed them at the keyboard. That he "authorized" the accompanist Erik Werba to make such a reduction instead of taking the trouble to do it himself, may signify nothing more than Strauss's eagerness to collect performance fees.
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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Sep 29, 2014 5:34 am

John F wrote:Really, these songs lose something essential when reduced from orchestral to piano accompaniment. The only reason ever to perform them that way would be to include them in a recital, and that doesn't apply to recordings. Strauss prepared no such version himself, though he very likely composed them at the keyboard. That he "authorized" the accompanist Erik Werba to make such a reduction instead of taking the trouble to do it himself, may signify nothing more than Strauss's eagerness to collect performance fees.
Yes, and that's ironic, for though they are relatively little known, Strauss's Lieder with only piano accompaniment are the greatest part of his output.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by John F » Mon Sep 29, 2014 6:25 am

Strauss orchestrated only a few of his Lieder with piano. Most of the arrangements we hear are by others; he gave them his OK and collected the performance fees. I believe Strauss himself orchestrated "Ständchen," and slightly recomposed it; in this performance he conducts it.

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Sep 29, 2014 6:47 am

John F wrote:Strauss orchestrated only a few of his Lieder with piano. Most of the arrangements we hear are by others; he gave them his OK and collected the performance fees. I believe Strauss himself orchestrated "Ständchen," and slightly recomposed it; in this performance he conducts it.

I'm not trying to argue with you on this John, just to have a discussion. There's no necessary virtue at all in orchestrating Lieder, though I can understand (barely) the financial advantage to the composer if he allows it to happen for his own music. The Four Last Songs are an exception--they may be Strauss's greatest works just as they are--but in general art songs fit best with the piano accompaniment which represents their original composition. LIszt orchestrated songs by Schubert, but the arrangements are vastly inferior to the originals. There is nothing more thrilling in all of music than hearing Erlköing accompanied by an unabashed accomplished pianist. Art song is inherently a chamber form, and I simply don't get the point about expanding these works for the orchestral concert hall.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by John F » Mon Sep 29, 2014 7:47 am

It's case by case, isn't it? The orchestration of Strauss's "Ständchen" is quite lovely, and I'd rather hear it than the original piano version; in other orchestrations the song gets weighed down. I've noticed that Strauss's songs are most popular with opera singers who give recitals; they prefer Strauss to the other Lieder composers, and Lieder singers prefer the other composers to Strauss. Perhaps this is why there are so many orchestral versions of Strauss songs, suitable for programs of arias etc. with orchestra. Or maybe Strauss's writing for the piano is less, well, pianistic; the orchestra was his main instrument.

Mahler was another such composer, and his songs with piano accompaniment aren't very effective. It's easy to understand, then, why after those early efforts he always composed his songs with orchestral accompaniment in mind, though for practical and commercial reasons the "Knaben Wunderhorn" collection was first published with piano accompaniments. I don't know anybody who prefers Mahler's piano versions. Indeed, I've just found out that after his death, Universal Edition had new piano versions made from the orchestrations to replace Mahler's own. Wheels within wheels.

As for whether "art song is inherently a chamber form," that generalization is far too broad for me, even without making allowances for Strauss and Mahler. In HMV's Hugo Wolf Society series in the 1930s, Walter Legge went to the expense of hiring an orchestra for Wolf's orchestral version of his "Prometheus" (originally published with piano) and chose a Heldenbariton to sing it: Friedrich Schorr. That recording isn't on YouTube but this one is:



There are other examples but I won't belabor it.
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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:27 pm

Schoenberg, who wrote many beautiful songs himself (you have to be tolerant of early atonality although some of them are late tonal), complained that early on he couldn't get his pupil Webern to write anything else. There is obviously something extremely seductive about songs with piano, though only a few composers have ever mastered them.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by CharmNewton » Sat Oct 04, 2014 12:03 pm

CharmNewton wrote:
Lance wrote:•EMI/Electrola - Anneliese Rothenberger, soprano; Erik Werba, piano (Werba's piano transcription auth by Strauss)
This is a recording I haven't encountered before. Is this a CD or LP? Do you have a catalog number for it?

Thanks,

John
After performing some online searches, I can't find any references to this recording so I suspect that the attribution to Ms. Rothenberger or Mr. Werba is probably incorrect, although some recordings toward the end of her career are elusive (Gypsy Songs with Irwin Gage accompanying and the television opera Katharina und Potemkin were fairly recent discoveries). Ms. Rothenberger's recording with André Previn has been mentioned and has been re-issued.

Mr. Werba has recorded these songs with another singer on Preiser.

John

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by John F » Sat Oct 04, 2014 5:04 pm

I looked in an old Bielefelder catalogue (1997) and found a recording by Gabriele Fontana and Erik Werba on the Fono label; nothing by Rothenberger and Werba. But if Lance has such a recording, that's a pretty good sign that it exists. :)
John Francis

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by Lance » Sun Oct 05, 2014 2:23 am

My humble, very humble, apologies. I was looking at TWO CDs simultaneously and trying to place the information hereon. Rothenberger performs with the LSO under Andre Previn on the EMI Electrola label [23556]. The other is the Fontata recording with Erik Werba at the piano, which appears on the Preiser label (probably formerly Fono, as alluded to in John Francis's notes. Sorry to get everyone excited - needlessly - careless on my part. That's what happens when one is writing hereon after 3:00 in the morning!
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: Strauss: Four Last Songs Recordings

Post by John F » Sat Oct 11, 2014 6:11 am

The Autumn 2014 issue of Classical Recordings Quarterly includes an article by Roger Smithson about the Flagstad/Furtwängler recording. Most importantly, the Testament release that Lance has is musically complete; all others, including the one I have, are missing the end of "Im Abendrot." Second, this is not the "dress rehearsal," as some seemingly authoritative publications say, but the public performance of May 22, 1950.

The story is that Walter Legge of EMI had that performance recorded for the Maharajah of Mysore, a supporter of such Legge/EMI projects as the Medtner Society albums. The article says that the surviving recordings are airchecks of the BBC broadcast, and speculates that Legge had such an aircheck professionally made for the Maharajah, rather than using EMI's facilities to record direct from the microphones. The acetates used by Testament are said to be somewhat worn from playing, and Smithson speculates, surely frivolously, that the discs Legge sent to the Maharajah might be "lying in some corner of the royal archives in the former state of Mysore, perhaps in mint condition" (i.e. unplayed). Lots of luck with that one.
John Francis

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