Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), for soprano & orchestra, o.Op. 150 (TrV 296, AV 150)
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), tone poem for orchestra, Op. 40 (TrV 190)
It's Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, making her first German-language recording, who gets top billing here, and that's understandable: Netrebko is emerging as one of the top stars in opera, with a big voice and an outsized personality to match. Her reading of Richard Strauss' reflective "Four Last Songs" does come out sounding a bit like the Italian opera in which she specializes, but to her credit she dials back the drama and achieves a sensitive response to the texts. The "Four Last Songs," though, make up less than a third of this album's more-than-65-minute length; the balance is devoted to a fine performance of the Strauss tone poem "Ein Heldenleben," with the Staatskapelle Berlin, the orchestra that premiered the work, led by Daniel Barenboim. Strauss' highly pictorial score receives detailed treatment from Barenboim, and the musicians follow him every step of the way. This is a live recording, made to benefit the restoration of the Staatsoper unter den Linden, the Berlin State Opera building. What little is lost in the sound environment is more than amply repaid in the sense of immediacy felt and expressed by the musicians. Recommended perhaps for Netrebko fans, decisively for those of Barenboim.