Consequently when an excellent Canadian soprano treats us to a program featuring the two, on Adrianne Pieczonka Sings Strauss & Wagner (Delos 3474), we are on firm ground with a landscape that complements itself in its details and overall landmarks.
Strauss was a great Wagner enthusiast in his formative years and in many ways worked his way through that strong influence to his own path. In the realm of lieder Strauss excelled.
Wagner did not produce much in the way of songs, but the "Wesendonk-Lieder" was a notable exception. He was involved in an affair with Mathilde Wesendonk in 1857, whose poetry furnished Wagner with lyrics for the five songs of the cycle. Two of the lieder ended up providing musical themes for his opera Tristan und Isolde. We hear the original version of the "Wesendonk-Lieder" for this recording, scored for vocal and piano. Wagner later orchestrated one and others reworked the other four. In its primary version Adrianne Pieczonka and pianist Brian Zeger give us an intimate reading that goes quite well with the Strauss lieder while also showcasing her considerable talent.
Richard Strauss was far more prolific a lieder composer. His output continues to form a staple in 20th century repertoire and rightfully so. We get 12 of them on this program, with Brian Zeger again on the piano. In all Strauss wrote some 158 songs, mostly at the beginning and end of his composing life. We get a nice selection of the early ones, such as "Rote Rosen," only discovered in 1958, and a good sampling of the late songs.
Zeger is the ideal accompanist, in total synch with the vocal lead, unobtrusive yet pianistically strong. Adrianne Pieczonka, her ravishing tone, her powerful projective dramatic sense, her impeccable musicality, is the near-ideal artist for this repertoire. If she reminds me favorably of the great Kirsten Flagstad, it is for those qualities Kisten embodied so beautifully--strength in all ranges and an artful dramatic sense.
Adrianne Pieczonka impresses me as one of the great living exponents of this repertoire, based on the CD at hand. For that reason I most certainly recommend this album. Ravishing lieder, ravishing performances!