Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Das Lied von der Erde
PERFORMER: Violeta Urmana (mezzo-soprano), Michael Schade (tenor); Vienna PO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 469 526-2
Being with Boulez in the rarified landscapes of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde is like gliding over the still waters of an exquisite mountain lake which offers no reflection and reveals no depths. Every note is in place – except, strangely, three from the tenor Michael Schade, who poises before the last refrain of his opening song a semitone too high (track 1, 7:23) – and textures reveal Boulez’s immaculate sense of balance, as ever. Oddly enough, given the conductor’s legendary austerity, in this case it’s the prettier the better: woodwind chatter precisely in perfect duet with the tenor admiring the porcelain pavilion of the third setting, while strings stay equally vigilant in the potential languor of ‘Von der Schönheit’.

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The problem comes with the crucial mechanisms of tension and release in the second and final movements. For Boulez the desolation passes without leaving a scar, while the way out is all too glibly achieved. Violeta Urmana, one of the great voices of our time, saves intense pianissimo singing for her very last farewell; the rest is rather too voluptuous, devoid of the self-communing quietly projected by artists like Alfreda Hodgson and Janet Baker. Schade is a bright lyric tenor; the question of whether or not he can ride Mahler’s orchestra is irrelevant in the studio, but his lack of heroic resonance makes his well-meaning desperation sound a little petulant. So it’s back to the old school of individualists who scour the soul: Klemperer, Bernstein and – still, for me, an enduring special case – Horenstein live on BBC Legends. David Nice