It’s hard to believe that the gorgeous Renee Fleming will turn 50 in February of 2009. Perhaps the career seems shorter because she won the Met auditions while nearly 30. But in this 20 year span she has emerged as one of the most versatile and radiantly beautiful voices in the world. This disc does little to argue against that statement. But it is rather strange in that only 12 years ago, in one of her first recordings, she gave us a Four Last Songs (RCA) that immediately competed with the best available, and that includes her mentor Schwarzkopf, Janowitz, and many others. Indeed, I have always rated that album, with it’s superbly accompanied orchestral work by Eschenbach (who milks the Houston strings) as perhaps my favorite to put on when I am in the mood for a listen.
But Fleming, who says she has sung this work more than any other, obviously felt a need to take another stab at it, and Thielemann and the Munichers decided to oblige her. Honestly, and I must say this, as exquisitely done as this album is, and as rapturously sung as Fleming pours her guts into it, I am not at all convinced that a remake was necessary, for the first one is just about a finely honed as one could wish. I do not hear a lot that makes me want to run out into the street and insist that every passerby acquire it with some urgency. What it does tell me is that one should have one of these recordings; but the sound on both is a chocolaty, velvet richness, with the RCA edging out the Decca ever so slightly.
To make amends, the rest of the program is different from the 1996 production, which is even more incitement to acquire both of them. Particularly attractive is the aria from Die agyptisch Helena, a nicety to have in an otherwise very nice program. The rather short timing irks me a bit as there was plenty of room for more, but I am sure Decca is banking on Fleming’s star power to make up for it.
And in this case it does…what a voice.
— Steven Ritter