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Emma Bell - Songs by Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter and Joseph Marx - The Sunday Herald


03 October 2004
The Sunday Herald
Frank Carroll
4 Stars

At first sight, a recital programme of the songs of Richard Strauss and his contemporaries, Bruno Walter and Joseph Marx, would seem an unusual choice for soprano Emma Bell. The emerging diva is more associated with Handel and Mozart at this early stage of her career than with the German Romantic tradition. Bell and her accompanist Andrew West however, are in top form, and give constantly imaginative and persuasive performances throughout.

Of the 25 songs in the programme, the eight that make up Strauss's rarely performed Mädchenblumen group form the core. bell sings them beautifully, with a flawless legato and freshness of tone that is at its most moving in the poignant and nostalgic Traum Durch Die Dämmerung. From the same group, hat Gesagt - Bleibt's Nicht Dabei perfectly catches Strauss's humerous take on the irony of parental persuasion falling on deaf ears.

Marx's music remains alive mainly due to the popularity of his songs. Melodic, chromatic and atmospheric, the influence of early Shoenberg in them is strong and these performances revel in their luscious sensuality. bell's sumptuous tones and West's responsive playing go to the heart of them, especially in the soaring phrases of Traumgekront.

Walter we know as one of the great conductor's of our time. Rarely is he encountered as a composer, although in the early 20th century, he was highly regarded as such and moved in the same creative world as Strauss, Schoenberg and Zemlinsky.

Not surprisingly, his songs have been highly influenced by the music of his contemporaries, but they do have a distinctive quality of their own, which Bell and West capture in finely detailed and sensitive performances.


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