Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: HMV
WORKS: Das Lied von der Erde
PERFORMER: Agnes Baltsa (alto), Klaus König (tenor); LPO/Klaus Tennstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 5 73468 2 (only available from HMV stores) Reissue (1992)
Hearing Fischer-Dieskau in his most challenging vocal music would surely have have made Mahler change his qualified remark that the alto’s songs in Das Lied von der Erde could only ‘possibly’ be taken by a baritone. This particular baritone is perhaps the century’s only male challenger to the expressive nuances of interpreters like Ludwig and Baker or the sheer heart of a Ferrier; if anything, he and Bernstein go even closer to the edge in expressive anguish, too close perhaps for some listeners. They also find different values to offset the kind of advantage an unusually thoughtful Baltsa has in meshing instrumentally with the lonely woodwind just above her. Observing the lotus-plucking beauties of the fourth song, Fischer-Dieskau plays serenader to the violins’ soprano caresses and in the farewell’s despairing passages, where mothering mezzos make the heart swell, his ruthlessly dark, bitter tone-colour scours the soul. That makes the opening-up of the final blue horizons more than usually miraculous and provides a very good reason for setting this performance alongside the Klemperer on your shelves.

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With James King as a lyric-heroic tenor able to lighten the voice, and the articulation, for the quaint chinoiserie of the third song much better than Tennstedt’s blander Klaus Konig, Decca’s classic hits both vocal targets; only the boxed-in, up-front strings sour the general intensity. Sanderling has a light Lieder singer without the tonal beauty to justify close miking and a contralto presumably chosen for Ferrieresque dignity, but lacking both insights and ideal breath control; a pity, because his dedicated work on orchestral phrasing is a noble halfway house between the heavily vivid Tennstedt and the volatile Bernstein. David Nice