Though Richard Strauss was to compose over two hundred songs spread through a long career, it is strange that so few have entered the standard vocal repertoire. The present disc deals with the subject of love and death as pictured in songs that span twenty years of his early career. Stylistically they follow in Schubert's footsteps and we find little of the personalised style of vocal writing that developed in the years of Strauss's great operas. He was, however, less astute than Schubert in his choice of poetry, his use of those involved in left-wing politics hardly a wise decision at the time. Even though it looks rather random, this is a nicely contrasting group of songs both in tempo and mood. The German mezzo, Hedwig Fassbender, frequently heard in the opera house in soprano roles, has the freedom at the top of her range that is here put to good use. Hers is a very different sound to the marshmallow quality that has become familiar in Strauss performances, the voice firm edged and tightly focused. That brings clean diction and reminds us that great songs respond well to very differing singers. Hilko Dumno's accompaniment is malleable as Fassbender requires, engineers keeping well away from that hazy sound that some critics favour in Strauss songs.
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