As one record reviewer put it: "It was a voice unlike any other." Indeed, for sheer vocal beauty no one matches Lisa della Casa, and a quick sampling of this disc's contents will demonstrate why Strauss himself identified her as his ideal Arabella. The voice's glory was its upper register: full, free, intensely colored, and exciting. But she had other gifts: superlative breath control (amazing in this music), naturalness of utterance, and perfect diction. Her tone quality suggests restrained emotion, and although she is Swiss, I can think of no singer who evokes Viennese elegance better. I like lots of singers past and present, and I admire many, but I worship this voice. If the house were on fire, I'd grab this CD before jumping out the window.
Although the Boehm-led 'Four Last Songs' are a classic performance, I find they are my least favorite part of this recording. Boehm's tempos are a little fast and della Casa, for all her beauty, sounds disengaged. But from then on she is matchless. The 'Arabella' duets are stunning, both for the singer's high level of vocal accomplishment and her ability to convey the character's changing moods. She sounds so genuine and unaffected and the voice is so gorgeous that I find myself drawn into the drama as with no other singer. She has good partners in Gueden and Schoeffler, but Poell brays relentlessly. Her rendition of the passage beginning "Und du wirst mein Gebieter sein" is my number one tear-inducing moment in all of recorded history. The 'Ariadne' aria is nicely sung, although she was even better a few years later for EMI/Testament. The 'Capriccio' final scene is ravishing from beginning to end, with della Casa's voice soaring gloriously above the Vienna Philharmonic's lush carpet of sound. For once you will see the moonlight shimmer during the orchestral interlude. It's almost too rich and delicious, like Sachertorte for breakfast.
Decca's remastering brings the singer forward and gives the orchestra more presence, but am I the only one who misses some high frequencies as a result? Although there are some terrific Strauss sopranos around these days, no one should be without della Casa. She DEFINES Strauss singing. Don't deny yourself this superlative musical experience.