Mahler: Das Klagende Lied • Berg: Lulu-Suite
What a dreadful gulf there is here: not between what we get of Mahler’s self-styled ‘Opus One’ and of Berg’s bittersweet swan song, but between these two performances from the 2011 Salzburg Festival. Pierre Boulez may have been the first to conduct Friedrich Cerha’s completion of Lulu, but he has ignored all the fascinating scholarship that has changed the many faces of Das Klagende Lied since his first recording back in 1970. That means there’s nothing of the long but bewitching original first part in which a brother slays his younger sibling, rival and victor in finding a red flower which will win the hand of a queen. Though the ‘new’ beginning here finds Mahler in prophetic Resurrection Symphony mode, music that should be reminiscences here lacks resonance.
What we miss most is the boy alto’s ghost voice, heard through a flute that has been carved from his bones by a passing minstrel. A contralto is a poor substitution for boy alto: as with the other two soloists, Anna Larsson’s wide vibrato gets in the way of focused storytelling. The Vienna Philharmonic strings bring dewy beauty to the late-Romantic canvas, but there’s little Götterdämmerung-like wildness about the banquet at which the man who would be king is exposed.
Boulez is more assured in the Lulu Suite: irradiating the many singable melodic strains, finding a word- and pitch-perfect soprano in Anna Prohaska and giving surprising licence to the Viennese sensuousness of his players.