FAURE: Requiem, Op. 48; R. STRAUSS: Four Last Songs – Teresa Stich-Randall, soprano/Gerard Souzay, baritone /Union Chorale de la Tour-de-Peilz/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
Cascavelle VEL 3135, 62:10 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
While there exists a commercial recording on Decca of the Faure Requiem–with Suzanne Danco and Gerard Souzay–inscribed by Ernest Ansermet in 1955, this darkly vivid reading comes from a concert performance of 20 February 1957. The choir voices ring with a solemnly clarion authority, an acceptance of mortality without bitterness, without terror. The finely trained choir has its home in Tour-de-Peilz, a little town of French-speaking Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva between Vevey and Montreux.
Gerard Souzay (1918-2004) appears eminently comfortable in the expansive Offertory, a rocking consolation whose low harmonies from the strings lull us with somber solace. The Libera me, Domine has something of the Brahms Requiem’s yearning for mortal understanding of the terrible mystery of death. Souzay here brings a trembling lyricism fully in character with the imploring nature of the text. With the Sanctus, the Faure magic bursts forth, those radiant church harmonies the Niedermeyer School honed in Faure with such unique results. Teresa Stich-Randall (1927-2007) achieved great success in Europe, her “white-toned” voice an instrument of dynamic power and steely accuracy. Her Pie Jesu may not convey the “innocence” that a boy soprano emanates, but rather she elicits a voice of powerful experience redeemed by inner faith and spiritual security. The ensuing Agnus Dei achieves the serpentine eroticism we know from the Berlioz vocal line, the organ obbligato equally sensuous. The incandescent ‘In paradisum’ bespeaks a deep spiritual conviction, if not in the hereafter, in the mystical as it appears on this earth.
The Strauss Four Last Songs (17 May 1961) once more features an inspired Teresa Stich-Randall, here intoning a work long associated with German sopranos Schwarzkopf, and Janowitz and Norwegian Flagstad. The music (1948), while perhaps not intentionally conceived as a set, contemplates–via poems by Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff–death, not only for the aging Strauss, but as a swan-song for the Germany whose moral and political catastrophes had led the country into rubble. The splendid French horn parts harken back to Franz Strauss, the composer’s father, and the soaring soprano tessitura celebrates the composer’s wife, Pauline. The loving orchestral tissue Ansermet creates to surround Stich-Randall’s silken flights of Romantic nostalgia leads us a century back in time, to a gentler, more humane epoch. The third poem, “Beim Schlafengehen,” invites the poet’s own soul to a restful dream, the solo violin and French horn accompanying a rising scale in the voice that weeps for Paradise Lost. One never recovers from the power of the opening orchestral chord to “Im Abendrot,” the Eichendorff poem whose tragic conceits end with the eternal question, “Can this be Death?” A farewell to life, a “fatal ecstasy,” indeed apt figures from a composer for whom Wagner and Beethoven marked the alpha and omega of music. Highly recommended!
— Gary Lemco