Das Lied von der Erde
Stéphane Degout (baritone), Kévin Amiel (tenor); Le Balcon/Maxime Pascal
B Records LBM042 60:03 mins
While it’s a useful staple for smaller-scale festivals, and served the musical world well during lockdown, Schoenberg’s chamber arrangement of Mahler’s symphonic song cycle, planned for a Viennese society disbanded in 1921 and completed by Rainer Riehn in 1983, only needs one fine recording. It’s had several, and this doesn’t displace them. Nor would I generally want to hear a baritone rather than a mezzo in the two deepest settings. Stephane Degout lacks hallowed introspection for the quietest passages, but he does have a beautiful, full tone for the three great, high-lying releases of ‘Das Abschied’ (‘The Farewell’). The tenor, Kevin Amiel, is hardly unusual in having the staying power for the two drinking songs, but not the porcelain delicacy of ‘Von Jugend’ (‘Of Youth’), where the pitching is too often flat. Conductor Maxime Pascal is a phenomenon, a mover and shaker in the world of contemporary music who uses that knowledge to inform his interpretations of past masters (very fine in a Proms performance of Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ). There is drive and subtlety here, while all the players sound fine when in full focus, but the recording was made in the reverberant acoustic of the Basilica of St Denis, hardly appropriate for chamber music. Presentation tries hard; while I don’t care for the artwork, the six texts on separate four-page booklets are nicely done. Still, not ideal if you’re trying to save shelf space. Maybe the original presentation, with contemporary introduction and interludes, might have made a better selling point.