Strauss' "i"Four Last Songs were the result of an Indian Summer in the composer's achievements. Most world-class sopranos have had a stab, attempting these highly charged balance acts of combining illuminating vocal beauty with the serenity and melancholic intensity of the old man's farewell to life. In addition to the Four Last Songs this recording also includes five Lieder written by Richard Wagner while in exile with his benefactors, the Wesendoncks. Frau Wesendonck turned out to be something of a poet, and Wagner's scoring of these five songs of hardship and hope show unusual introspection and humility, yet never desolation. The Lieder also functioned as studies for "i"Tristan und Isolde from which two movements are included on the album "to show where Wagner's strength really lay". To the question "where does Cheryl Studer's real strength lie", the answer must be: with the Wagner. She has the big voice to tackle both composers, but all in all the Strauss songs sound a bit too much like hard work (which, Heaven knows, they are!) Sinopoli and the Staatskapelle orchestra are also trying too hard on their part. Studer seems much more at ease when left to enrich and personalise the intimate Wagner Lieder, and indeed the dramatic "Liebestod". Strauss' swan songs, with their marathon lines and abstract message, remain in the realm of the unresolved, if not unexplored, on this recording. --Yngvil V.G.