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On his deathbed, Richard Strauss is said to have uttered the amazing line ‘Dying ... is just as I composed it.’ he was referring, directly, to his tone poem, Death and Transfiguration (Tod und Verklärung).
Yet, indirectly, he was also doffing the cap to his Four Last Songs, where, in one, ‘Im Abendrot’ (‘at Twilight’), he quotes some of his earlier music, in particular the Transfiguration section.
Strauss had become steadily more unwell in the run-up to the writing of what we now call the Four Last Songs (there appears to have been at least a fifth, possibly a sixth planned) and death was very much on his mind. The melancholic, autumnal russets and browns infusing all four works for soprano (or tenor) and orchestra make for some of the most delicious moments in all music.
It’s probably a very subjective call which version is right for you. Nina Stemme singing with Antonio Pappano’s Royal Opera House Orchestra is wonderful. For a direct line back to the composer himself, there is always the remastered Elizabeth Schwarzkopf version with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, which comes with its baggage as well as its beauty. Renée Fleming’s perfect rendition is expertly presented with Christian Thielemann and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.
Renée Fleming (soprano); Munich Philharmonic Orchestra; Christian Thieleman (conductor); Decca: 4780647.