LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Das Lied von der Erde
PERFORMER: Waltraud Meier (mezzo-soprano), Ben Heppner (tenor); Bavarian RSO/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: 7 4321 67957 2
Never underestimate veteran maestro Maazel’s capacity to surprise us with something wonderful every now and then. This could be a Rattle at work on texture and phrasing; but let’s not forget that Maazel, too, provided hard-working opposition to the over-plush Karajan view in his cycle of the Mahler symphonies back in the early Eighties. In this new Das Lied, combative instrumental lines are never over-spotlit by the artificial but miraculous engineering, and never pointed up by Maazel at the expense of the longer view (hear the funeral-march interlude of the great final ‘Farewell’ for confirmation).
He gives so much space and room for his Bavarian woodwind soloists to manoeuvre that the vocal soloists ought to rise to his billowing sense of occasion, too. Ben Heppner certainly does, and the urgency of his nature-monologues is gilded with heroic-tenor stature as he rides the orchestra with polished confidence. At the other end of the scale, he effortlessly articulates the quaint chinoiserie of the third song at the crisp, chattering pace Maazel daringly sets. Waltraud Meier projects the ode to youth and beauty with spirit, but her idiosyncratic technique, well enough matched to her electrifying stage performances, simply doesn’t allow for the luminous softness and the objective narratives of the cycle’s two deepest settings; here the tone-colour is monotonous and the text choppily inflected. At best, it’s an everyday interpretation, light years away from the wisdom of Alfreda Hodgson on BBC Legends – worth braving, perhaps, for the detailed insights of Maazel and his orchestra. David Nice