Joan Rodgers / Jan Latham-Koenig / Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg

Strauss: Don Juan; Metamorphosen; Songs for Soprano

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The three major sections of this album feature the orchestra, soprano and piano, and solo strings, and each offers a radically different type of performance. The Don Juan alone is worth the price of the album: it is stunning. The sweeping, rousing, Wagnerian beginning might give the listener goosebumps with its tremendous, Bernstein-like energy. Jan Latham-Koenig and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg do this piece fantastic justice. The sparkling, twinkling violin solo is perfection (it recalls the solo in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue), and the lyrical section featuring the oboe and winds is equally enjoyable. This is certainly a gorgeous example of how tone colors in the orchestra are varied and used to great effect, especially when each instrument plays with tremendous mastery. One can only wonder why this orchestra is not more widely known. The second grouping of works is the lieder featuring Joan Rodgers accompanied by the conductor. Rodgers has a core to her voice, an honesty and vulnerability she shares with the listener. She is more successful in the more pieces that show off her dramatic voice, such as in "Die Verschwiegenen," where she can handle the leaps with ease, and Begegnung, which is a faster piece that seems to suit her very well. Though her legato lines are a bit thin in Rote Rosen, she is very attentive to the phrasing. Rodgers brings out the rhyme very nicely in Die erwachte Rose, even though the recording suffers because the piano is too soft. (This problem seems to plague the album overall, and it is especially noticeable in the lieder and in the Metamorphosen.) Her less strong lieder are the more lyrical, legato ones, such as "Allerseelen," where Rodgers sounds a bit light, and Morgen! where Latham-Koenig's accompanying seems to concentrate heavily on the chordal aspects of the music instead of playing more through the line. The Metamorphosen is gorgeously moody, with rich textures and interesting harmonies that evolve seamlessly. The conductor has done a good job in bringing out all of these individual voices. Yet again, the recording quality does not do the piece justice, especially when there are brief solos on the violin. The brief break toward the end makes a statement in its silence, after so much musical evolution: a small stroke of genius by the composer. It is very fascinating to hear how the piece dies out after so much motion. Thus, there is but one composer, yet three diverse sides to his art.

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