Barbara Bonney Sings Richard Strauss
I recall a very special performance of Strauss’ 4 Last Songs, as conducted by none other than Sir Georg Solti, with Dame Kiri TeKanawa. At a certain point, Sir Georg says to the audience in his charming Hungarian accented way: “You have heard the Strauss with Piano accompaniment; now here it is again with orchestral accompaniment; you decide which is better…”
Just one of the things which is special in this recording is the fact that Ms. Bonney is accompanied by none other than pianist Malcolm Martineau. As a result, we can focus on the special aspects of the poems which are set to music by Strauss. This is somewhat more difficult when an entire orchestra accompanies the singer. Clearly, when there are fewer instruments playing, it’s a lot simpler to hear the words. Of course, the words are in German, but the little booklet in the jewel case provides an English translation by none other than Barbara Bonney, herself.
Ms. Bonney’s voice is legendary, and her interpretations of all these songs are a special event for the listener. There are a group of eight songs, followed by a group of 7 songs, and last the well – known Four Last songs, all by Strauss.
Strauss was born in 1864, and he died in 1949. Think of it: He was born in the second half of the 19th century. He experienced the Second World War in Germany. In fact, he was known to be a Nazi sympathizer. He signed letters during these times with the preface “Heil Hitler”, followed by his signature. It’s one of the most amazing oxymoron’s that such a person could produce music of this level of beauty and sensitivity.
I experienced a level of sadness, and resignation in the music of the 4 last songs. I suspect that Strauss was aware that he’d be leaving this Earth soon. These are real masterpieces; and the singer is able to provide the phrasing, the interpretation, the melodic line, and the sensitivity to the words of the poems, the way Ms. Bonney does so beautifully.
Last I heard, she was teaching singing at the Salzburg Mozarteum. Her students must know how lucky they are to have a teacher of that capability…
You may wish to read the next post (9/25/09) of Renee Fleming performing the same Four Last Songs of Strauss, with orchestral accompaniment
To hear the Bonney samples, go to: