ALBUM TITLE: Mahler * Schoenberg
WORKS: Kindertotenlieder; Des Knaben Wunderhorn – selection; Rückert-Lieder; Lieder, Op. 2
PERFORMER: Anne Schwanewilms (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4146
Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler unfailingly prove a good team; and this recital starts so promisingly. Anne Schwanewilms holds Schoenberg’s melody, in his early Op. 2 songs, like the finest silken thread. Her faultless legato realises to perfection the echoes of inner rhyme and assonance within the poetry. There’s a sense of fragile, precarious expectation within the harmonic unease and subliminal eroticism of these songs, and both Schwanewilms and Malcolm Martineau, in his deft, sentient piano playing, are finely tuned to the music’s nerve system.
But then comes Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder – and considerable disappointment. There’s much to enjoy in the bare, white bones of Mahler’s piano accompaniments, especially as exposed by Martineau. But I became increasingly impatient with the way Schwanewilms pulled the line about like loose elastic, impeding the natural progress of the melody. Her tempos are so daringly slow that she becomes expressively self-defeating. A song such as ‘Wenn dein Mütterlein’ sounds self-consciously precious, with the top of the voice taking the strain.
Better news for Schwanewilms’s Knaben Wunderhorn selection, and for her Rückert-Lieder. I like the toughness she and Martineau bring to the darkest, most angrily ironic Wunderhorn songs. And there’s a smiling and ardent flexibility within Mahler’s tender settings of Rückert, and a feisty, if at times effortful, strength to her ‘Um Mitternacht’. Hilary Finch