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Dip Your Ears, No. 118 (Fantasy-Lied von der Erde)

available at AmazonG.Mahler, Lied von der Erde,
K.Nagano / C.Gerhaher, K.F.Vogt

Some people play Fantasy-Football, others Fantasy-Das Lied von der Erde. Restricting myself to active artists, I’d cast the Concertgebouw Amsterdam or the Munich Philharmonic (the latter gave the premiere performance), I’d want Pierre Boulez or Daniele Gatti to conduct. In the unthankful, difficult tenor part I’d want to hear Jonas Kaufman or Klaus Florian Vogt (just to see how his choir-boy voice could ring above the orchestra without having to push too hard). There might be several mezzos I could imagine adding magnificently to it, but for the version with two men singing there is only one baritone I’m really keen on seeing cast in Das LiedChristian Gerhaher.

Sony comes awfully close to fulfilling my wishes: Klaus Florian Vogt and Christian Gerhaher perform together with Kent Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. Not an orchestra I would admittedly have thought of, but like Kent Nagano—whose recordings I often prefer over his live performances (terrific Mahler 8th)—they turn in an atmospheric, sensitive account that is the most pleasant surprise. Gerhaher is his usual self: The most self-effacing baritone of our time, natural, clear, and incredibly unaware of just how good he is. Perhaps not everyone will be impressed as much as I by his voice, it’s not the most powerful instrument, after all. But it is the most intelligently used, and has a vibrato that Gerhaher uses like string players used to: Only to emphasize certain points. If violinists strive to sound like certain sopranos, cellists should listen to Gerhaher.

If there was anything at fault with this disc to keep it from a straight shot into the “Best of 2009” list (which it made), it's Klaus Florian Vogt: I still think he could be ideal, in his own, certainly idiosyncratic way. There is nothing that need keep his detached, nasal, treble-ish voice from navigating Mahler’s score with the greatest success. He hints at it enough on this recording, too. But at times Vogt sounds so incredibly uninspired that it can’t be shrugged off as just an introverted interpretation. Instead, it sounds like he phoned his contribution in. Actually, he did, in a way: not in perfect health at the concerts, he recorded his parts later, in Munich. But I’m not sure why Vogt’s blandness should be the result of dubbing his part in, a month after the live performances.

I can accommodate myself with his stiff “Drunkard in Spring”, but it keeps the entire effort from being closer to idel than any recording of this work I’ve yet heard. And whether Vogt’s contribution pleases or displeases, the disc must be heard for Gerhaher’s “Farewell” alone, which suffices to make it the Mahler-recording of the year. (The booklet notes are detailed and useful, but money was saved by not including the text.)

Mahler Survey on ionarts at this link.