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Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (piano version)

Claudia Huckle (contralto), Nicky Spence (tenor), Justin Brown (piano) (Champs Hill Records)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Das Lied von der Erde (piano version)
Claudia Huckle (contralto), Nicky Spence (tenor), Justin Brown (piano)
Champs Hill Records CHRCD 167   62:56 mins


Having declared a curmudgeonly ‘enough’ to yet another Song of the Earth in Schoenberg’s chamber arrangement, I wondered if we needed to go back to the even more extreme economy of Mahler’s autograph piano version. Yet, quite apart from a few striking differences of texture, admiration for any pianist who can handle the complex interludes of the fourth and sixth settings, and a few vocal lines with different notes – and even in one case a different text (the familiar ‘I await his last farewell’ is here ‘he comes to me, as he said he would’) – the substance and the musicianship are what count. Here, perfect technique, deep expression and unique vocal personalities combine in the singing of Scottish tenor Nicky Spence and Anglo-German contralto Claudia Huckle, who’s done so many distinguished things around the world yet not enough in the UK – and who writes such a lovely foreword in the booklet to complement conductor and pianist Justin Brown’s eloquent words on the edition chosen and Richard Stokes’s insights into the music.

We have to hear both these singers in the orchestral version – but in the meantime how much there is to admire here in the mesh of voices and piano. The pentatonic intermezzo here called ‘The Pavilion of Porcelain’ would work as an encore in a song recital, but even the great ‘Farewell’ sustains its half-lights and big emotional release.


David Nice