Mahler: Kindertotenlieder; Des Knaben Wunderhorn (excerpts); Rückert Lieder (excerpts)

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Kindertotenlieder; Des Knaben Wunderhorn (excerpts); Rückert Lieder (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Dietrich Henschel (baritone); Hallé Orchestra/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-86573-2
Any suspicion that this is yet another case of a record company vanity-packaging a promising artist is banished by the playbill reproduced on the inside cover of the booklet. It reveals that this was exactly the sequence of Mahler songs with orchestra promoted by Vienna’s Association of Creative Musicians on the evening of 29 January 1905, and Donald Mitchell’s characteristically thorough note supplies further details. The honours then, however, were shared by three baritones, and only a singer of Fischer-Dieskau’s calibre would be able to pull it off single-handed. I imagine Dietrich Henschel would have the humility to admit he is not quite that. His is a slim, nimble baritone which we have already learnt to value in Bach, used here with rhythmic precision in the livelier military numbers such as ‘Der Schildwache Nachtlied’ and ‘Revelge’. But he will never have the bass-baritonal timbre which both Fischer-Dieskau and more recently Thomas Quasthoff have engaged for the drummer-boy’s ballad (and it seems as if ‘St Anthony’s Sermon to the Fishes’ has been transposed up a tone from C minor, which would have given it more of a kick in context).

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In the Kindertotenlieder, an ideally warm piano surfaces only briefly at the beginning of the second song, and ultimately in the final lullaby – an unreal mood which the first Rückert setting with subtle interplay between the voice and the excellent Hallé soloists beautifully sustains. Otherwise, Henschel and Nagano explore the middle depths but not the far blue horizons which the supreme interpreters have conveyed in these greatest of songs. David Nice