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David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2010

Though recorded fifty-seven years ago, Lisa della Casa’s recording of the Four Last Songs is still widely considered as the benchmark by which all others will be judged. Born in Switzerland in 1919, she had the good fortune to pursue her young career through the war years in the safe haven of the Zurich Opera House. There she took a wide range of roles, but in the late 1940’s became particularly linked with Richard Strauss’s operas which she sang extensively on both sides of the Atlantic. She had that rather laid-back creamy voice that was much in vogue in Strauss operas at the time, and was particularly suited to the leading roles of Capriccio and Arabella. It was a vocal sound of considerable beauty that brings a peaceful inevitability to death in The Four Last Songs. There is no added sadness, just serenity, phrases shaped with affection and a naturalness that is reflected in the accompaniment from the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Bohm. That original release was completed with two tantalising excerpts from the third and fourth acts of Arabella with Rudolf Moralt conducting. Interesting, but I fervently hope that Naxos will release her complete Arabella with Solti conducting as it will never be surpassed. In both she is partnered by the equally gorgeous voice of Hilda Gueden. Sadly she never recorded the complete Capriccio but we have here the closing scene where the Countess is left facing the dilemma as to whether words or music are the most important thing to her. It is a loving portrait, though in this 1954 recording the Vienna Philharmonic were sounding below their best for conductor Heinrich Hollreiser. That Della Casa could be a dramatic soprano comes in Ariadne’s aria, Es gibt ein Reich from Ariadne auf Naxos. Both original LPs were admirable for their time and the restoration engineer has done an unadorned transfer.

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