After performing Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs with English Symphony Orchestra in March of last year, soprano, April Frederick, went down with Covid. For a month she was unable to sing due to numbing fatigue.
On the 26th July she returned to singing, recording Strauss’s magnificent songs on a new album called Visions of Childhood with ESO.
This is an astonishingly good CD with stunning orchestral arrangements by ESO’s principal conductor, Kenneth Woods. They provide new insights into well known and lesser known repertoire by Richard Wagner, Engelbert Humperdinck, Franz Schubert and Richard Strauss.
Wagner’s instrumental work Siegfried Idyll was a birthday present to his wife Cosima after she had given birth to their son Siegfried. Compared to Wagner’s booming, epic style reserved for his operas, this work is both private and intimate. The music is one of wonder – I imagined a toddler padding barefoot across a soft forest floor staring up into the trees listening to bird song/piccolo flute. Each instrument makes a smooth entry. There is no conflict, only a momentary crescendo indicating apprehension or it could be excitement. I loved this wonderfully rich, immersive piece.
Engelbert Humperdinck’s song of the Sandman followed. Taken from Act II, Scene 2, of his Hänsel and Gretel opera, the sung extract was quite gorgeous, with elements of Wagner and Mozart’s Magic Flute. The three roles of the Sandman, Hänsel and Gretel, were sung by Frederick, who performed a sibling duet with a little help from modern technology!
The other pieces on the programme were more familiar to those lovers of German song and chamber music.
Die Forelle (The Trout) song, was skilfully woven into variations of Schubert’s Trout Quintet.
Meanwhile “Der Tod und das Mädchen”/ Death and the Maiden, which draws much from Schubert’s slow movement of his String Quartet in D minor, was sublime. The new arrangement let every ESO instrument shine. Frederick’s vocals following were beautiful as you would expect.
Her Vier letze Lieder/ ‘Four Last Songs at the end of the recording tugged at the heart strings. What I was not ready for was the luminosity of her voice. It had a divine element to it and I was truly lifted by her interpretation of Strauss’s late work.
Highly recommended recording with April Frederick and English Symphony Orchestra on top form!
‘Visions of Childhood’ out on 5th February 2021, Nimbus Alliance. Film of the concert: https://youtu.be/rK6m7_zgGx4