15 Nov 2005


The Lieder of Richard Strauss lend themselves well to various interpretations that bring out different aspects of the music.

Traditionally, the composer’s Vier letzte Lieder and the set of Neun Lieder, op. 10, have been associated with female voices, even though Strauss did not assign a gender to those pieces. For a male singer to confront this tradition may be regarded by some as a risk. Yet the deft touch and nuanced coloring that is part of many fine performances are found in the performances of Jarnot and Deutsch on this CD.

This recording opens with the familiar Strauss song, “Zueignung” (op. 10, no. 1), and it is clear from the start that this music fits Jarnot’s supple baritone voice. He approaches this song with a rich, sweet sound that is approach to Strauss’s setting of the text by Hermann von Gilm, and the recurring phrase “Habe Dank” is connected well to the lines that precede it. Jarnot gives appropriate vigor and energy to the second song, “Nichts,” and shows restraint in his interpretation of the following one, “Die Nacht.” In the last song, Jarnot demonstrates his ability to sustain the long phrases that are part of much of Strauss’s vocal music, not only in the Lieder, but also in the operas. In giving full measure to the longer phrases found in that piece and others in this set, Jarnot uses a resonant, ringing tone that fits the style of the music quite naturally. While some of the lighter aspects of Jarnot’s baritone voice are apparent in his recent recording of Mahler’s Lieder, it is in these works by Strauss that shows some of the fuller sounds that he can produce, as in “Die Georgine.” This recording is notable for its inclusion of “Wer hat’s getan?”, a song that Strauss withdrew from the op. 10 set when it was published. While the song has been recorded before, it works well for Jarnot’s voice.

His approach to the Vier Lieder, op. 27 is similarly effective. “Ruhe, meine Seele! (op. 27, no. 1) is notable for the perceptive interpretation that Jarnot contributes to this song and the others in the set. “Cäcilie” benefits from an aggressive approach, and Jarnot conveys the text particularly well, especially in those passages that are almost employ declamatory style. The ringing tone he brings to this song and “Heimlisches Aufforderung” is welcome, since this music demands the vigor he brings to these songs.

Of the music on this recording, perhaps the known best are the Vier letzte Lieder, which are usually performed by a female singer and often with orchestral accompaniment. Given the current performance tradition that includes memorable recordings by such outstanding interpreters as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Jessye Norman, Renee Fleming, and other women, Jarnot’s decision to sing these pieces – as a baritone and with piano accompaniment – calls attention to the timbre associated with this work. From the outset, the deeper voice type is apparent, and Jarnot’s sensitivity to the character of the music in this set is clearly present in “Frühling,” a piece that requires the attention he has given to its details. Jarmpt colors his voice appropriately in the second song, “September,” to allow the text to emerge persuasively. Throughout that song and the others in the set Deutsch’s accompaniment is notable for being present without overtaking the performance. The fuller textures that sometimes occur are played in context. In some extended passages, as in “Beim Schlafengehen,” Deutsch takes the lead so that the full-voiced piano and the extroverted baritone timbre create a memorable performance. In this song and the final one of the set, “Im Abendrot,” Jarnot and Deutsch are at their best. The extended vocal line in “Im Abendrot” that is, at times, punctuated by figures in the accompaniment demonstrates how these songs can work well with piano.

With the Vier letzte Lieder and the other selections on this recording, Jarnot offers some fine performances of Strauss. Whether he chooses Lieder traditionally associated with women’s voices is immaterial when he can bring a fine interpretation to the music. Jarnot’s approach to Strauss is sound and would be effective with many other selections from the composer’s oeuvre. Some would debate this choice, but the finesse he brings to the recording is laudable. In fact the notes that accompany the CD include the baritone’s comments about the selections:

. . . I am very interested in recording music I have a real opinion about. I think that the Four Last Songs can gain more meaning through a performance with a deep masculine voice. . . . I sing the Four Last Songs because I love them and because I think that the result can be a good one. . . .

Jarnot’s comments suggest something crucial to effective performances: the stake the musicians have in pursuing music that truly moves them. His passion for Strauss emerges in this effective recording and reveals something about his own artistic disposition.

This is fine recording of Lieder from various parts of Strauss’s career merits attention, and those who enjoy this repertoire should appreciate Jarnot’s presentation of the music. The sound is nicely balanced and serves the music well. Those who enjoy Strauss’s Lieder should find much of interest in this recording, which represents yet another excellent contribution by the young baritone Conrad Jarnot.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin