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Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn (arr. wind octet)

Peter Schöne (baritone); Philharmonia Octet Prague (Supraphon)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Des Knaben Wunderhorn (arr. wind octet)
Peter Schöne (baritone); Philharmonia Octet Prague
Supraphon SU43222   56:31 mins

Is there a point I’m not quite seeing here? The links between Mahler’s earlier symphonies and his settings of texts from the folk anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Youth’s Magic Horn) run deep, and they’ve plenty to tell us about possible personal meanings in the symphonic music. But apart from showing how song and symphony breathe the same air, this selection doesn’t have much illumination to offer on that subject.

The arrangements are on the whole very good – who’d have thought that the Scherzo of Symphony No. 1 would work so well on nine instruments? And in the songs they offer a lighter accompaniment than a full orchestra, allowing the singer to develop a more intimate, nuanced approach to Mahler’s word-setting. But while Peter Schöne has a pleasing, mellifluous light baritone voice, his range of expression isn’t exactly huge, and that’s as evident in the largely hushed ‘Urlicht’ as in the more rousing ‘Lied des Verfolgten im Turm’. Perhaps the recording is partly to blame for that impression: the ensemble is warm, rich and immediate, but the singer sounds slightly recessed. A more attentive microphone might have revealed more subtleties in his singing. But for me it’s the sound of the wind octet-based ensemble that lingers most positively in the memory. That can’t be right.

Stephen Johnson

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