Between Life and Death: Songs & Arias

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms,JS Bach,Loewe,Mahler,Mendelssohn,Schubert,Schumann,Tchaikovsky,Wolf & Weber
LABELS: Challenge Classics
WORKS: Songs and Arias by JS Bach, Brahms, Loewe, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Wolf & Weber
PERFORMER: Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Michael Gees (piano)

Sombre monochrome photographs of graveyards and gasometers adorn the accompanying booklet to this double-CD. Yet far from being depressing, the programming here, both thoughtful and vividly imaginative, serves to stimulate the senses and lift the spirit. Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees have fashioned an anthology of 18th- and 19th-century song which hovers Between Life and Death, and the sequence of music is every bit as revelatory as the performances.
A fresh and unmannered introductory performance of Bach’s ‘Komm, süsser Tod’ leads with both tonal and spiritual ease into an equally direct rendering of ‘Urlicht’ from Mahler’s Second Symphony – artfully and beautifully accompanied by Gees. In similarly rewarding vein, Brahms’s ‘Feldeinsamkeit’ follows Mozart’s ‘Abendempfindung’ as though the latter were the shadow side of a single emotional experience.
There are more obvious juxtapositions, such as songs on youth and death by Schubert, with an exquisitely poised ‘Anakreons Grab’ from Hugo Wolf. And there are surprises, too. On the first disc, a rare and startling performance of Carl Loewe’s ballad ‘Edward’ precedes Max’s spooky recitative and aria from Weber’s Freischütz; on the second, Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin (here in German!) finds itself in the company of the premonitions of death in the minds of Schubert’s and Mahler’s soldier boys.
With a quietly impassioned and sensitively paced performance of Mahler’s valedictory ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, the final track fades into thin air, concluding an anthology to savour slowly, and return to many times. Hilary Finch