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Gustav Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde (Part 2)


available at Amazon G.Mahler, Das Lied, Walter / Ferrier, Patzak / WPh
Decca et al.

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available at Amazon G.Mahler, Das Lied, Walter / Thorborg, Kullman / WPh

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available at Amazon G.Mahler, Das Lied, Walter / Nikolaidi, Svanholm / Philharmonic SO

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available at Amazon G.Mahler, Das Lied, Walter / Miller, Haefliger / NYP

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available at Amazon G.Mahler, Das Lied, Walter / Forrester, Lewis / Philharmonic SO
Music & Arts

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Among altos in Mahler’s Lied von der Erde, Christa Ludwig, Janet Baker and Kathleen Ferrier are in their own league. Ferrier, the glorious foghorn, sings with Julius Patzak (stentorian and not very pretty) under Bruno Walter in the 1952 recording. (Formerly or still available on Decca Legendary Recordings and also as an alleged live version with the same performers from the same month on various different labels.) She’s a great contralto but her very distinct (not to say mannered) voice is a matter of taste, especially here, in what is essentially her swan song.

I’ve never quite gotten rid of the feeling that Mahler-protégé Walter, in Mahler at least, is overrated—precisely because of his close association with the composer. (Walter gave the premiere of Das Lied in 1911 with the Munich Philharmonic.) Kerstin Thorborg sings with Charles Kullman in Walter’s 1936 recording (also with the—scrappy—Vienna Philharmonic), the sonic infelicities of which are undeniable and will hamper enjoyment for all those who don’t willingly and happily indulge in historic recordings. Walter’s other recordings (1953 with Set Svanholm and Elena Nikolaidi, then with Maureen Forrester and Richard Lewis—both with the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and, also 1960, with the New York Philharmonic and Ernst Haefliger and Mildred Miller) have better sonics, more decent orchestral performances, and lesser singers. Of the lot, the one with Miller and Haefliger is the one with which I'd least likely part.

available at Amazon G.Mahler, Das Lied, Reiner / M.Forrester, R.Lewis / CSO
RCA Living Stereo

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available at Amazon Mahler, Das Lied, Haitink / Baker, King / RCO

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available at Amazon Mahler, Das Lied, Haitink / Baker, King / RCO

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Haefliger, though, is still better with Jochum (Concertgebouw, DG) and Forrester-Lewis are better with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At least in its Living Stereo SACD re-issue, that latter recording is a contender and indeed my favorite from the time before Bernstein’s in 1966. The advantage, if you are inclined to consider it one, is that Forrester and Ferrier are true contraltos; the more refined female voices to have taken the part since usually mezzo sopranos.

Especially with the sound glorious, I’d opt for Janet Baker and James King with Haitink and the Concertgebouw. It comes conveniently on a Philips DUO with Haitink’s Ninth (which, together with that Lied, is one of the best Mahler recording that the all-too-understated Haitink has made) or with other Mahler songs, also on one of those DUOs. King is still not very distinct, but Baker is. Because the alto (baritone) songs are more reflective, inward-turned songs and hover almost emotionless in the last movement, one wishes that the distinctiveness were reversed—but there is plenty of gentle glory to be had from this recording. Compared to the earlier Bernstein there is a touch of blandness here, but Das Lied is devoid of histrionics and wild emotional attacks, so that is hardly a disqualification. Janet Baker is as good or better with Kubelik in the live recording from 1970 (Audite) and there she is coupled with a fine Waldemar Kmentt whom I know little about, otherwise. Alas, the Concertgebouw is the better orchestra in this instance and the very good sound of the Audite recording yields to the excellent sound of the Philips. Beauty of sound narrowly wins in this, if any, Mahler composition. Right now you can still get the Philips recordings, but since Universal can no longer use that brand, the two DUOs will soon be taken out of circulation and then, eventually, replaced by Decca re-releases. The budget import (only Das Lied) might remain in print and is the most economic option.

"This is probably the most personal thing I have written"

(Mahler to Bruno Walter)

available at Amazon Mahler, Das Lied, Klemperer / Ludwig, Wunderlich / New Philharmonia

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available at Amazon Mahler, Das Lied, Oue / De Young, Villars / Minnesota

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available at Amazon Mahler, Das Lied, Boulez / Urmana, Schade / Cleveland

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Speaking of beauty of sound: Fritz Wunderlich—not the least because of his untimely death—has achieved a near-mythic status among tenors. Lyrical and soaring, expressive and golden-toned, his instrument was something to marvel at and listening to his recordings usually affirms our high opinion of him. So does his Lied recording where he is coupled with the outstanding Christa Ludwig. So what if Klemperer is a rather stiff and surprisingly insensitive partner, or that the EMI GRoC recording does not exactly exude the virtues of high fidelity. Just a little more natural power in Wunderlich’s voice might make for downright perfection. But that’s nothing the lavish and meticulous Walter Legge studio production couldn’t approximate and he’s closer to an ideal version than most, anyway. It does make me think of how a Windgassen Lied would have been, though—as it demands lyrical ability with the raw (and carrying) power of a Heldentenor.

It is too bad that Barenboim is only available as an import; at Apex’s (one of the Warner Classics budget labels) price and with Waltraud Meier and the then still young (enough) Siegfried Jerusalem it would be a contender—impressing also with good sound. The Erato disc can still be found at a good price used. Eiji Oue’s Minnesota Lied is interpretively slick and uneventful but it sounds magnificent, not the least thanks to the young, marvelous Michelle DeYoung. A recording to have more for the moments than the general impression, but one to have, all the same.

Whatever they did in the studio with Michael Schade on the Boulez recording (DG), it works. He doesn’t sound outsized at all, nor strained—as he did when I heard him and his beefed-up Mozart tenor in Das Lied most recently, then hopelessly overtaxed despite an accommodating orchestra. And the Boulez recording was made seven years before that, in 2001, when Schade had not even yet beefed up as he has done more recently. He makes a good couple with the unyielding beauty of Violeta Urmana.

available at Amazon Mahler, Das Lied, Nagano / Gerhaher, Vogt / OP Montreal

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Kent Nagano’s Lied with Christian Gerhaher and Klaus Florian Vogt, conducting the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, is stupendous. I’ve written about it before, and it will feature again as one of my favorite recordings in 2009. Sure, Vogt’s voice sticks out like a (sour) thumb, but that is quite enchanting, given the alien inflection of the work. In any case the weak point of this recording is Vogt’s (lack of) interpretation, not that entrancing oddly-unique voice of his. His “Von der Jugend” I quite love but his “Der Trunkene im Frühling” I take objection with. Like it or not, it is more than made up for by a wonderful orchestral contribution (Nagano seems always to exceed his live self on recordings) and the finest, most natural baritone to have tacked Das Lied: Gerhaher. As impressive on disc as he is in concert.

available at Amazon
Mahler, Das Lied, MTT / Hampson, Skelton / SFS
SFS Media

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available at Amazon
Mahler, Das Lied, Herreweghe / Remmert, Blochwitz / Musique Oblique
Harmonia Mundi

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Thomas Hampson has a more self-conscious way of singing, which I sometimes find off-putting. But self-conscious or not, his contribution to MTT’s Lied is magnificent… Stuart Skelton remains indistinct on that disc, which also means he doesn’t struggle or fail. I prefer Skelton’s neutrality to Peter Seiffert, and Hampson’s later performances with MTT to his earlier, alongside Seiffert, with Simon Rattle (EMI).

Arnold Schoenberg’s chamber version of Das Lied is not only good for performing Mahler on a small budget, it merits listening for its leaner-still structures and rice paper-like delicacy. Philippe Herreweghe’s Harmonia Mundi recording with Hans-Peter Blochwitz and Birgit Remmert is as good here as the Smithonian Chamber Players under Kenneth Slowik with John Elwes and Russell Braun are on Dorian. signature1

The font used in the title is "ITC Korinna Regular"

Mahler Lied Choices

1. Leonard Bernstein, Fischer-Dieskau & King, Wiener Philharmoniker, Decca

2. Bernard Haitink, Baker & King, Royal Concertgebouw, Philips

3. Kent Nagano, Gerhaher & Vogt, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Sony

4. Paul Kletzki, Fischer-Dieskau & Dickie, Philharmonia, EMI

5. Rafael Kubelik, Baker & Kmentt, BRSO, Audite

6. Pierre Boulez, Urmana & Schade, Cleveland, DG

Lied SACD Choice

All-Male: MTT, Hampson & Skelton, SFS, SFS Media

Mixed: Reiner, Forrester & Lewis, CSO, RCA Living Stereo

Continued here: Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.9 (Part 1)

Overview of the whole Mahler Survey on ionarts at this link.

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