The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (66): The original at-home singer

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (66): The original at-home singer


norman lebrecht

May 20, 2020

Lisa Della Casa.

Unequalled in the 4 Last Songs.

Fabulous human being.


  • She was so unique. What a great performance. It must be actually one of the best of this mastepiece.

  • Strauss Nut says:

    Unequalled, yes.

    And she and the Vienna Philharmonic follow Flagstad’s sequence, which is so much more effective:

  • Bruce says:

    Beautiful beautiful singing (of course), but so much faster than I’m used to hearing it! She makes it work, but IMO the orchestra sounds rushed.

    • M McAlpine says:

      Yes I have this recording. The voice is beautiful of course but the tempi (Bohm the conductor) are too fast imo

    • John Borstlap says:

      I agree – Im Abendroth has on top of the score: ‘Andante’ which is multi-interpretable but definitely not allegro as it sounds in the beginning. The slowing-down later-on makes a much too great contrast. Della Casa is fantastic indeed.

      But Schwarzkopf’s & Szell’s Abendroth is better in terms of tempo:

      • Strauss Nut says:

        Oh, I can live without Schwarzkopf/Szell but could never part with Della Casa/Böhm. Tempo is something one can adjust to. And remember, Böhm’s great Tristan and Ring are both “fast.”

        • John Borstlap says:

          Boehm did not always follow the indications in the score of Tristan. He not only ‘rushed’ but made the orchestra sound much too loud at many places. I have his reording and it is very impressive, burning with intensity, but it is not exactly what Wagner has written, the score has also many stretches of subtle intimacy. of course notations of dynamics and tempo are metaphorical, but they indicate the character of the sound, of the music.

          • Strauss Nut says:

            It is easily the most exciting Tristan ever recorded, and you know it.

            At the moment we are in a Troyens immersion that has included the discovery of Berlioz’s own timings — in minutes, not score indications — and they are all well on the short side, albeit proportionate as compared with Gardiner, whose reading is best. Composers are sometimes just wrong!

          • John Borstlap says:

            Maybe… but who is going to decide on what basis? It is an ongoing debate, if it is talked about at all, without any conclusion. I stick with the idea that performers have to TRY to obey as much as possible what is in the score. Otherwise you end-up with arrangements.

          • Strauss Nut says:


  • Edgar Self says:

    I happily live with both. Karl Böhm has the best sunfall on the first note of “Abendrot”, the kettledrum stroke and orchestral bloomjust right, the VPO glorious.

    Della Casa’s was the first to LP, although Flagstad and Furtwängler’s premiere, now on Testament complete in tolerable sound, and Ljuba Welitsch with piano preceded. But I also need Elisabeth Schwarzkopf with Otto Ackermann and Dennis Brain; and Szell and Karajan (also Gundula Janowitz) for me for word-sense, beauty of tone and phrasing. I saw her sing it in San Francisco.

    I saw Lisa della Casa on the San Francisco stage, in “Die Meistersinger” with masterful Paul Schoeffler.
    SHE was Swiss and beautiful, which did not escape Klemperer’s notice. He stopped their first rehearsal to ask, “Bernese? I thought so.”

    I think “Abendrot” makes the better ending, with Eichendorff’s poem, “We two together hand in hand”, horn intoning “Death and Transfiguration” a lifetime earlier, the question “Is this perhaps death?”, and the slow tumblers locking in place for the most perfect cadence in post-war music. What a beeautiful end to what some called the four last Lieder there will be.

    The other three poems are by Hermann Hesse a friend gave Strauss, who marked them for setting.

    Have others noticed Strauss quotes seven notes of “Porgi amor”, around “Wir sind wandermüde”?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Strauss’ oeuvre is full of almost quotations, he was a busy conductor and the entire palette of the repertoire was always close when composing. Nothing wrong with this: it is the way traditions work. Once during a rehearsel of his own music a player referred to a theme which was almost the same as some well-known phrase from the repertoire, upon which Strauss said: ‘Yes, it’s beautiful isn’t it?’ and continued the rehearsel undisturbed.

      • Edgar Self says:

        John Borstlap. composer handle these thingss differently. Brahms threw Hans Rott out for one too many suggestions of Beethoven in the finale of his first symphony’s, but to another simply growled “Any donkey can see that” and probably did not know his young friend Mahler’s use of that theme’s rhythm to open Mahler’s third symphony.

        Every melomane has his own list: Godowsky’s of a seven-note phrase from Chopin’s waltz in A-flat in ‘his Gardens of the Buitzenzorg” from “Java Suite”‘; Schubert’s tip of the hat th his second trio to Beethoven’s Ghost and Archduke; opening of Liszt’s E-flat concerto in augmentation by Addinsellfor “Warsaw Concerto”.
        Strauds’s are usually self-quotation, but others’ in “Metamorphosen”, and “Porgi amor” cost me a nights’ sleep to pin down.

        Two of the most inexplicable: the horn theme identical to Thaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and Wagner’s “Lohengrin”, also about a swan, and they hated each other.

        Another is stranger still. Liszt wrote “Funerailles” and dated it “October 17, 1849”, the day of Chopin’s death, but insisted it had nothing to do ith Chopin, although you hear the galloping Polish cavalrs left-hand octaves from the A-flat Polonaise. Liszt’s even changes key and direction of the horsehooves at thesame spot as Chopin. Then why the date of Chopin’s death? And fobb it off on a Hungarian martyr?

        Dwight MacDonald has an anthology of world poetry that includes a parody section: parodies by others, and self-parodies both conscious and unconscious. You could ,ale a similar collection for music. Some are pretty funny … Jack Kerouac, Henry James, Fennimore Cooper, Kipling, Hemingway, Faulkner, some existentialists for good measure.

  • MezzoLover says:

    Della Casa’s live performance of Im Abendrot from the 1958 Salzburg Festival, with a more relaxed Böhm (who takes a full half a minute longer here than in 1953), is, if anything, even more magical:

  • Emil Gilels says:

    “Unequalled in the 4 Last Songs” – it would be much better to say “unsurpassed”. That way you can still allow for other performances (Schwartzkopf, Jessye Norman, etc.?) that may be as great in their own unique way, as well as allow for varying and changing tastes.
    With subjective Art, there is never a way to determine ‘best’. Save ‘unequalled’ for the 100 meter dash results; for matters artistic, better to use ‘unsurpassed’.
    That is, unless one is intentionally courting controversy – and page hits! 😉