Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Das Lied von der Erde
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo (tenor), Bo Skovhus (baritone); Los Angeles PO/Esa-Pekka Salonen
CATALOGUE NO: SK 60646
Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde cries out for a Heldentenor with the sensibility of a Lieder singer – not the most common of combinations, it must be said. Plácido Domingo is, in truth, neither of these. His security in German Romantic repertoire has admittedly come on by leaps and bounds since his early brush with Wagner’s Die Meistersinger for Jochum in the Seventies, but his voice doesn’t always reveal the echt timbre for this music. There are certainly times on this new recording when one senses he’s trying so hard to pronounce the German words authentically that it’s not clear that the meaning is there as well.

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It’s easier, of course, for the Dane Bo Skovhus – quoted in the CD booklet, it’s interesting to note Domingo finding operatic links with the music, and Skovhus emphasising the communicative, Lieder side. This dichotomy is further highlighted by the fact the two singers recorded their songs almost a year apart, yet unity is provided by Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who steer an impassioned course through all six songs.

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The real novelty of this recording, of course, is the presence of a baritone instead of a contralto. Mahler sanctioned it as an alternative, but surprisingly few recordings have been made of this version, the most notable being by Fischer-Dieskau (on three occasions) and Thomas Hampson. Skovhus’s engagement with the music and words is justification enough, though no one has conveyed the emotions of ‘Abschied’ more sensitively and poignantly than my benchmark interpretation of this work, Brigitte Fassbaender on Giulini’s DG recording. Matthew Rye