COMPOSERS: Alma Mahler
WORKS: Songs (complete, orch. Panula)
PERFORMER: Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo-soprano); Tampere PO/Jorma Panula
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1024-2
A little of Alma Mahler goes a long way, even given the fact that only 16 of her many songs have come down to us. ‘The complete Alma’ as presented here starts in a discreet fin de siècle haze that does little more than become blowsier, more pretentious and only occasionally more interesting in the two sets of 1915 and 1924; perhaps the interregnum, during which Alma’s famous first husband imposed a ten-year ban on a rival composer in the house, poisoned her muse.
At any rate, the case is greatly strengthened by the marvellous Lilli Paasikivi, a mezzo richly in the mould of her one-time teacher Janet Baker, and by conductor Jorma Panula’s orchestrations. Alma’s sustained piano lines are cushioned by strings – is Panula paying deliberate homage to Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht in the third song on the disc, when the singer exclaims ‘amazed, we embraced in the dark night’? And I like his telling use of solo woodwind, synthetically but not inappropriately spotlit in the sunset-glow recording. Paasikivi, with her built-in luminosity of tone, needs no such help; the words are effortlessly projected in the warmest of middle ranges, and her scope ranges from smiling simplicity in ‘Bei dir ist es traut’ to the heroic Wagnerian glow of ‘Hymne’, helping to deflect a little from the unintentionally funny poetic diction Alma seems, all too often, to have preferred. David Nice