Mahler - Das Lied von der Erde
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special offer ending 29/10/2020
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Cat No: PTC5186760
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 28th August 2020
ArtistsSarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)
Robert Dean Smith (tenor)
11. Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde
22. Der Einsame im Herbst
33. Von der Jugend
44. Von der Schönheit
55. Der Trunkene im Frühling
66. Der Abschied
It’s a formidable ring into which to throw one’s hat, but two present-day Mahlerians of considerable achievement and experience now do so: Vladimir Jurowski with the Berlin Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, and Iván Fischer with his handpicked Budapest Festival Orchestra. Recorded within a little over 18 months of one another, they even share a tenor, Robert Dean Smith (one of the few currently active Heldentenors able to cope with the part’s eye-watering demands), while the alto soloists are Sarah Connolly (Jurowski) and Gerhild Romberger (Fischer), both Mahlerians of great distinction.
In this work above all it is necessary to balance the elegiac and celebratory aspects, the passing and the eternal, the hedonistic and the inward-looking. Both these new accounts achieve this, but with subtle differences of emphasis. Dean Smith is in fresher voice for Fischer (recorded in March 2017), with tiny hints of strain above the stave under Jurowski (October 2018), while Romberger is often more focused and clear-toned than Connolly, who has a pleasing richness to her lower register. Channel Classics’ recording for Fischer is warmer, with more space around the orchestra, and the voices relatively ‘up front’, while Pentatone’s Berlin recording (made in the Philharmonie) is drier, more detailed, and achieves a greater synthesis of vocal-orchestral balance. This last factor proves to be key, for Mahler’s fusion of genres surely demands something more than the conventional spotlighting of vocal soloists. Under Jurowski, the orchestral soloists (and they are many, in this most intimately scored of works) are every bit as crucial as the sung voices, and the individual talents of his musicians, especially in the evocative woodwind solos, play a big part in the performance’s success.
It is Jurowski, too, who brings out the immediacy of much of the score, from the double-edged revelry of the drunken man in the first and third movements, to the heartfelt reflections of the alto in the second and sixth. Both performances have a palpably cumulative trajectory, with the final half-hour Abschied movement crowning performances of enormous power and emotional involvement. But while Romberger and Fischer are undeniably beautiful and affecting, its is Connolly, Jurowski and his Berlin players who penetrate the words and music more deeply, as well as being more alive to such details as the intended pitches for the alto’s ‘Ich werde niemals’ in the movement’s final section. The focus of the Berlin recording brings the potency of this music, above all in the great funeral march before the final vocal section, more sharply into focus, without losing any of the spiritual radiance that brings such consolation and joy in earthly creation.
If it’s vocal beauty and warmth of sound you’re looking for, you may well prefer Fischer’s account, but for sheer involvement, expressive maturity, and an unfailing command of the work’s epic sweep, Jurowski is the one to go for. (Sadly, Pentatone have unaccountably omitted the text of the last movement’s closing section: a grievous error if you have no other source to hand, but in the wider context a relatively minor one.) Committed Mahler collectors will no doubt want both recordings: they certainly each deserve a prime place in the current catalogue, and for immersiveness of sound (both are in surround sound on Hybrid SACDs) they will challenge even some of the classics.
Also soon to be released is a moving recording of Reinbert de Leeuw’s chamber version of Das Lied, with mezzo Lucille Richardot, tenor Yves Saelens and the musicians of Het Collectief on Alpha Classics. De Leeuw’s arrangement is for slightly larger forces than Arnold Schoenberg’s 1918 version for the Society for Private Musical Performances, adding a harp and contrabassoon (both indispensable elements of the music’s soundworld). It was recorded just two months before de Leeuw’s death in February 2020, and for his many admirers it will be an essential acquisition, bringing a notable lightness and airiness to the score. It’s a unique and fitting epitaph, and its chamber scale, so apt for Das Lied von der Erde’s intimate score, is also peculiarly appropriate for our present times.
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