MAHLER: Das Lied Von Der Erde – Klaus Florian Vogt, tenor/ Christian Gerhaher, baritone/ Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal/ Kent Nagano – Sony/BMG 88697508212 *****:
Arguably the brightest jewel of the Mahler diadem, Das Lied Von Der Erde represents the “full service” Mahler: Youth, with its excesses, overflowing with emotion, joy with sorrow just around the corner, and finally, resignation with farewell. That Mahler chose a final song cycle to transmit these feelings, harkens back to Das Knaben Wunderhorn, his early collection of songs which became the inspiration for much of his symphonic output. Das Lied is many shades different from its predecessor. The bold palette of Das Knaben Wunderhorn is replaced by the delicate watercolor wash of Das Lied. Based upon The Chinese Flute, 8th century Chinese poetry, Das Lied celebrates the essence of youth, joy, beauty, sorrow and farewell. All in life is transient, yielding at last to a serene departure from this earthly world. Das Lied Von Der Erde is Mahler’s final synthesis of lieder and symphony. It is his ultimate expression of yearning, the emotion of which he was master.
There is a coolness, a detachment, which permeates Das Lied. Mahler uses pentatonic and heptatonic scales to achieve an almost oriental ambience. This live Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal performance underscores this aspect of the work. Kent Nagano’s interpretation is cool and restrained, with the orchestral sound ethereal rather than declamatory. The work is presented as interrelated poetic scenes, pointing towards the final Abschied. The orchestra is splendid; particularly the wind soloists and strings, who play with exquisite refinement.
Mahler was undecided as to whether the alto part should not be sung by a baritone. Bruno Walter, who premiered the work six months after Mahler’s death, used an alto and tenor for his performance. He experimented once by entrusting the part to the baritone, Friedrich Weidemann of the Vienna Opera. Afterwards Walter felt that the alto voice provided better contrast and he did not again use two male voices. [Mahler: The Man and His Music, Egon Gartenberg 1978, Schirmer Books.] In the Nagano recording, Gerharer and Vogt sing beautifully and are within the poetic spirit of the work. Yet, I much prefer the range and timbre of the female voice. This is no doubt a result of my familiarity with earlier recordings featuring Kathleen Ferrier, Janet Baker and Maureen Forester.
Recorded live at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, Place des Arts, Montreal in Feb. 2009 with Vogt overdubbed in Munich shortly therafter, the CD sound is very, very good. A natural balance of orchestra, soloists and hall ambience is achieved, minus, unfortunately, the ultimate detail provided by higher resolution recording.
The Montreal Symphony under Charles Dutoit released many reference recordings of Debussey, Ravel et. al. during the latter years of the 20th century. This recording under their latest Music Director, Kent Nagano, marks their return to the recording lists. Welcome back OSM. Highly recommended.