OPERA NEWS - Adrianne Pieczonka: Sings Strauss, Wagner
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Adrianne Pieczonka: Sings Strauss, Wagner

CD Button Songs by R. Strauss and Wagner; Zeger (piano). Delos DE 3474, texts and translations

Recordings Pieczonka Cover 1215

ADRIANNE PIECZONKA doesn't fit the traditional paradigms for a Strauss soprano: her voice is neither a glittering leggiero nor a large-framed dramatic one (though her stage roles include Senta and Sieglinde). As recorded, it's lyric, vibrant, and evenly produced, allowing her the easy long line this material requires. Even with piano accompaniment, these songs seem to be striving for full symphonic status, and Pieconzka projects their expansive range of colors and moods with rhythmic alertness and verbal immediacy.

Thus, the second strophe of "Die Nacht" brings a Rosenkavalier-like breadth, and its climax is an outpouring of joy. The play of dynamics in "Rote Rosen" is communicative rather than "arty"; "Begegnung" goes with urgent anticipation; in "Du meines Herzens Krönelein," the change of tone for the second strophe is nicely realized. The soprano's precisely timed attacks particularly benefit the segmented, fatalistic "Ruhe, meine Seele!".

Caution occasionally gets in Pieczonka's way. The climax at "weinen" opens out wonderfully in "Befreit," but similar upward leaps in "Zueignung" and "Traum durch die Dämmerung," while lovely, aren't as free. The singer has both the float and the settled repose for "Meinem Kinde," but the rises to "sachte" are tight, and the first doesn't quite make it up to the G; in "Morgen!", similarly, "wogenblauen" nags slightly flat. She starts "Nichts" a bit carefully, although she finds a nice variety in it once it gets going. A number of "expressive" straight tones in "Die Nacht" are merely distracting, and not always centered on the pitch.

The producers have arranged the program with a group of six Strauss songs on each side of the Wesendonck-Lieder, making the Wagner cycle its centerpiece. Pieczonka's performances, again, are deeply felt, bringing out the pained agitation in the second strophe of "Der Engel," realizing the growing urgency of "Träume." But the soprano seems not entirely at ease in these songs' predominantly lower tessitura. A lack of tonal depth in the lower-midrange restricts her options in "Stehe still!,” where she can't change the vocal and emotional color, and she relies more frequently on straight tones to simulate weight and intensity, particularly in "Im Treibhaus." The voice opens out nicely in the higher-lying "Schmerzen," which has the vibrancy missing elsewhere in the cycle.

At the piano, Brian Zeger offers stylish and full-bodied support. His liquid articulations and clear counterpoint in "Einerlei" are a pleasure, and he weights the dark, Expressionist harmonies of "Ruhe, meine Seele!" with care. In the Wagner, his pearly tones in "Der Engel" verge on the salonish, but he effectively projects the desolation in the postlude to "Im Treibhaus" and shades the chords in "Träume" with a fine chiaroscuro.

The booklet gives the text of each song followed by its translation, which, if you're going back and forth between them, can make it hard to find your place in either; several of them require page turns! —Stephen Francis Vasta

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