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Principal Guest Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Donald Runnicles leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and soprano Christine Brewer in a new Telarc recording of masterworks by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. Encompassing reflections on human mortality, the program was recorded in Symphony Hall at the Woodruff Arts Center in March 2006. It is Runnicles' fourth Telarc recording since he began his tenure with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2001.
The recording begins with Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod (Love-Death) from Tristan und Isolde. In 1856, in the midst of a love affair with the wife of one of his biggest financial supporters, Wagner stopped work on his Ring of the Nibelungs for two years, during which time he composed the Wesendonck-Lieder, five songs set to poems by his paramour, and Tristan and Isolde. Although the opera itself didn't premiere until 1865, Wagner combined the Prelude and Liebestod as a concert work, which was first performed in 1863. Christine Brewer, who has been called "a major Wagnerian" by the Financial Times, sings the Liebestod, Isolde's grief-stricken aria on the loss of her lover before she joins him in death.
Richard Strauss wrote Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 (Death and Transfiguration) in 1888, when he was a 25-year-old assistant conductor of the court opera at Weimar. The work is a tone poem depicting the final hours of a dying man. Strauss himself conducted the premiere in 1890, and for many years it was his most popular work among concertgoers. Strauss's musical depictions of illness and death were so vivid that many erroneously believed that the composer must have been deathly ill when he wrote it.
During his lifetime, Strauss composed some 200 songs, most of which he wrote early in his career and many of which he wrote for his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna. In 1947, then in his eighties and contemplating his own passing, Strauss set an orchestral song to "At Sunset," a poem reflecting on the final rest by Joseph von Eichendorff. Soon after, Strauss identified four poems of a similar nature by Hermann Hesse and began a cycle of four songs. He lived long enough to complete only three—"Spring," "Time To Sleep," and "September." All three, together with "At Sunset," are rendered brilliantly on this recording by soprano Christine Brewer.
Donald Runnicles, well known for his affinity for the music of such German composers as Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler, is one of today's most consistently acclaimed conductors of opera and symphonic repertoire. In addition to his position with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, he is music director and principal conductor of San Francisco Opera (since 1992) and principal conductor of New York's Orchestra of St. Luke's. His previous Telarc recordings with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra are Orff's Carmina Burana (CD-80575 / SACD-60575); Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, featuring the ASO Chorus (CD-80603 / SACD-60603); and Mozart's Requiem, featuring the ASO Chamber Chorus (CD-80636 / SACD-60636).
American soprano Christine Brewer's opera, concert, and recital appearances are marked with her own unique timbre, combined with a vibrant personality and emotional honesty. The Guardian once wrote that her "voice is, quite simply, one of the greatest in the world." Prior to recording this concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, she undertook her first complete Isolde in concert performances at the Edinburgh International Festival with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. The New York Times called her performance "an Isolde to remember." Her previous Telarc recordings with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra include the Mozart Requiem (under Donald Runnicles, CD-80636), Janáèek's Glagolitic Mass and Dvoøák's Te Deum (Robert Shaw, CD-80287), and Grand & Glorious: Great Opera Choruses (Shaw, CD-80333).