Strauss: Ein Heldenleben & Mahler: Rückert-Lieder by Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Rafael Payare and Sonya Yoncheva
Label: Pentatone
Cat number: PTC 5487 201
My contribution to this amazing production
Associate Producer

Two Highly Personal Works By Fin De Siècle Giants 

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and its Music Director Rafael Payare extend their Pentatone discography with a recording of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben and Gustav Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, performed by one of the foremost soprano of our time, Sonya Yoncheva.

At first blush, these works may not seem to form an obvious pairing. This is Strauss at his most exuberant, with an immense and richly coloured musical canvas, and Mahler at his most introspective, choosing the intimacy and inwardness of Friedrich Rückert’s poems, creating an array of different atmospheres through his bare yet varied orchestration. Nevertheless, in their eminently personal and autobiographical approach, both composers offer us their careful reflection on existence and on their place in the world.

Following their widely-acclaimed recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (2023), Rafael Payare and the OSM further explore and shine in this late-Romantic repertoire.

“It has been a fascinating experience to explore this repertoire with the OSM. Reconnecting with Mahler while immersing ourselves in the sound world of Strauss marks an important milestone in our musical trajectory together and continues our shared journey through the German and Austrian repertoire. It is also our first collaboration with Sonya Yoncheva, whose extraordinary voice is blessed with an endless palette of expressive nuances and colours. We are very pleased to share with you the poetic and musical world of these two towering composers.”

Rafael Payare, OSM Music Director

“This new album, the second of our exclusive partnership with the OSM, is a remarkable testimony of the orchestra‘s journey under its new Music Director, Rafael Payare. I marvel at the many qualities of their Heldenleben, a lesson in sonic refinement, precision and warmth. Superstar soprano Sonya Yoncheva, in her Pentatone and Mahler debut, shows that artistic boundaries are often self-imposed and only call to be transcended. A tremendous achievement.”

Renaud Loranger, Vice-President Artists and Repertoire, PENTATONE
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Press & critics

Strauss: Ein Heldenleben; Mahler: Rückert-Lieder Review by James Manheim

The Strauss and Mahler works on this 2024 release are both relatively often recorded, and listeners may have been surprised to see the album show up on classical best-seller lists in the spring of that year. There is the consideration that Rafael Payare and his abundant Afro are landing on many lists of acts to watch, and he shows signs of jelling with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal in the Richard Strauss autobiographical tone poem Ein Heldenleben. Hear the superb solo work from violinist Andrew Wan in the third movement, representing Strauss' wife, Pauline de Ahna, but the big news here, and what is probably drawing buyers, is the other work on the album, Mahler's Rückert-Lieder, which receive a revelatory performance from soprano Sonya Yoncheva. It is a distinctly different flavor from the usual Wagnerian sound, adding operatic emotionalism to Um Mitternacht and the gorgeous finale, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. Yoncheva was an inspired choice, whether by Payare or someone else, and the album is worth time and money for her alone. The PentaTone label adds nicely transparent sound from the Maison Symphonique de Montréal to the mix.


Gramophone MagazineApril 2024

An enthusiastic podium presence, Payare gets results that are by no means ‘flash’. He takes nearly 47 minutes to negotiate a score which Carlos Kleiber and the composer himself get through in under 40. The argument flows nicely if not always with galvanic force.

Sunday Times

Richard Strauss’s critics – baiting 1898 tone poem Ein Heldenleben, so exquisite one minute, so overwrought the next, receives a middling performance by the Montreal Orchestra under Payare. There is an epic sweep to their playing in Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung and the orchestra leader Andrew Wan is superb in the passages for solo violin. But their account lacks a certain effervesance, although the recording balance is spot on. The Bulgarian operatic soprano Yoncheva’s reading of Mahler’s Ruckert-Lieder is a similarly mixed bag – haunting in Um Mitternacht and Ich bin der Welt abhanden Gekommen, perhaps a little too light in tone elsewhere. Much to enjoy though.