Mahler: Kindertotenlieder; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Rückert Lieder

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Kindertotenlieder; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Rückert Lieder
PERFORMER: Hidenori Komatsu (baritone); Hannover Radio PO/Cord Garben
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554164
The fact that Mahler the conductor always entrusted his most tragic songs, the Kindertotenlieder, to male singers has been no bar to interpretations of the highest order from both sexes: Mahler himself would surely be hard-pressed to choose between Dame Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in this music. So although Naxos may historically speaking have done the right thing by following up a mezzo’s recording of the song-cycles some years later with a baritone’s, all you really need to know about these performances is that Hidenori Komatsu’s delivery has nothing to offer beyond a degree of dynamic variety. Phrasing, tone-colour and word-nuancing are undistinguished, the bass-baritonal timbre is ungainly in the softer high reaches of the Wayfarer songs and an indiscriminate vibrato intrudes throughout, adding precisely that patina of mawkishness which it is every interpreter of Kindertotenlieder’s first duty to avoid.

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This is bad luck for Cord Garben’s work with the Hanover Radio Philharmonic, which if occasionally over-studied reflects throughout Mahler’s imaginative pinpointing of detail. There’s a shade too much close-up in the recording, which makes the celesta in low register at the end of ‘In diesem Wetter’ sound like a marimbaphone, but the expressively accented woodwind solos of the Kindertotenlieder are ideally projected. I was grateful, too, for at least one revelation I hadn’t noticed before: the expressionist distortion of the beloved’s ‘silver laughter’ just before the great scream in the third of the ‘Wayfarer’ Songs. Without a voice of calibre to cap it, of course, all this is meaningless for anyone but the reviewer; but I enjoyed it all the same. David Nice