LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Das Lied von der Erde
PERFORMER: Alfreda Hodgson (alto), John Mitchinson (tenor); BBC Northern SO/Jascha Horenstein
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4042-2 ADD
Only a musician of Horenstein’s calibre could have knocked the late, much lamented Alfreda Hodgson off the star billing in this latest ‘Legend’. The finest contralto Britain produced after Ferrier, she had, if not Ferrier’s heart-tearing immediacy in the catharsis of Mahler’s awesome ‘Farewell’, a greater sense of centring and colour. Phrase after phrase is floated with heartbreaking dignity and poignancy; the lonely, withdrawn duetting with flute and oboe is unquestionably the most sensitive on disc. And yet she slips into the long booklet note only in parenthesis as ‘the splendid mezzo’.
Never mind. This intriguing article, by Horenstein’s assistant Joel Lazar, gives plenty of detail on the master’s stick technique, and everything Lazar says is borne out by the electrifying, trenchant performance. This was the first time the BBC Northern Symphony (now Philharmonic) had played the work, as Horenstein’s three-minute speech at the end reveals, and a few lapses of string ensemble are offset by the breathtaking vividness of the fiercer movements. It’s thrilling to hear golden heroic tenor Mitchinson battling against focused orchestral screams and trills in a natural acoustic, and if he is not a natural for the porcelain delicacy of the third number’s quaint chinoiserie, he manages to produce some delicate soft singing in the drunkard’s spring song. Although the live recording sometimes goes glassy on the voices at climaxes, this remastering is a great improvement on the CD incarnation I already possess (Descant). And that ‘certain extraordinary quality’ of a performance with ‘very good soloists indeed’ that Horenstein talks about is never in doubt. David Nice