Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn (selection)

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Des Knaben Wunderhorn (selection)
PERFORMER: Barbara Bonney (soprano), Sara Fulgoni (mezzo-soprano), Gösta Winbergh (tenor), Matthias Goerne (baritone); Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 467 348-2
In Riccardo Chailly’s skilfully programmed sequence of Mahler’s innocence-versus-experience folk treasury, it’s the guest artists with a song apiece who really get to the heart of the matter. Sara Fulgoni combines rich tone, youthfulness and deepest sympathy in ‘Urlicht’ (as extracted from the Second Symphony) and the late, lamented Gösta Winbergh brings to the relatively late mastery of ‘Revelge’ an ideal combination of lyricism and cutting edge. That glowing-knife quality isn’t quite achieved by Matthias Goerne; as with his recent Covent Garden Wozzeck, you never feel that his harried soldier runs through the world like an open razor, as Berg and Mahler sometimes require; though in legato he does touch real depths. Bonney does pert as well as ever – when did you ever hear the donkey-brayings of ‘Lob des hohen Verstandes’ pitched perfectly on the top B flat and low A? – but manipulates the different voices uneasily, almost on the verge of parody, when she should be at her most sustained and serious in ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’.

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The most adaptable singers, it seems, are Chailly’s Concertgebouw woodwind – mournfully amplifying the gallows lament of Goerne’s very fine drummer boy, in grotesque opposition to the human voice of Winbergh’s soldier; the later the song, the more remarkable does Mahler’s orchestration emerge in all its selective glory. Yet that’s a quality also maintained by Abbado’s Berlin Philharmonic on the DG benchmark, which may not boast the final bonus of ‘Das himmlische Leben’ (a less easily detachable symphonic movement than ‘Urlicht’) but does offer the ideal contrasts of Quasthoff and von Otter.