Mahler: Rückert Lieder; Kindertotenlieder; Lieder aus Des Knaben Wunderhorn

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Rückert Lieder; Kindertotenlieder; Lieder aus Des Knaben Wunderhorn
PERFORMER: Waltraud Meier (mezzo-soprano); Bavarian RSO/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 57129 2
Würzburg-born Waltraud Meier doubtless has a drop or two of the waters of the Neckar and the Rhine running through her veins: it certainly sounds like it in the robust, bucolic lilt of her voice in ‘Rheinlegendchen’, one of four settings here from Mahler’s favourite folk collection, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. It’s an apparently simple song, but deceptively tricky to bring off; and Meier, vividly offset by the gently ingratiating strings of the Bavarian RSO under Lorin Maazel, does so to a nicety. Indeed, each of these little rural dramas – be it a parable of fishy hypocrisy or a tale of starvation – is newly reanimated in Meier’s word-bright singing.

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It is the vigorously communicative enunciation of this Wagner mezzo turned dramatic soprano which makes her Rückert Songs and her Kindertotenlieder so powerful, too. ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’, Mahler’s most private song for his young wife, Alma, is brought impetuously into the public domain. And the BRSO’s pungent woodwind soloists work their own potent chemistry with the flaring light at the top of Meier’s voice in ‘Um Mitternacht’.

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Maazel knows just when to urge his players on to support the momentum of Meier’s singing in a Kindertotenlieder which explores every register of her voice. Janet Baker’s Kindertotenlieder and Rückert Lieder with the Hallé and Barbirolli (EMI) has a unique Classical beauty and sobriety; Christa Ludwig’s pairing, with the Berlin PO and Karajan, a Central European pungency all its own. But my benchmark remains Brigitte Fassbaender’s outstandingly compelling performances, raw and instinctive, with the Deutsches SO and Chailly, which also include the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Hilary Finch