Mahler: Rückert Lieder; Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit; Lieder from Des Knaben Wunderhorn

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: Rückert Lieder; Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit; Lieder from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Shirai (mezzo-soprano), Hartmut Höll (piano); Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: 10 712 DDD
The presence of Czech mezzo-soprano Dagmar Pecková, and of Mahler’s three major song-cycles (plus a bonus sound bite in the Fifth Symphony’s Adagietto) all together on one disc certainly makes this a tempting proposition. Pecková’s mezzo, like a smooth, dark claret throughout its register, sings with the intensity of a Brigitte Fassbaender, plumbing each song’s emotional depths to find a flare of terror in the Wayfarer’s cries and anger as well as grief in the Kindertotenlieder.

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If Pecková has a fault it is her tendency to over-enunciate and to weigh down words and tempi. Her ‘Lindenduft’ has a sickly, heavy scent which some will find stifling, and the Prague Chamber PO under Belohlávek is a sometimes over-indulgent accompanist.

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Mitsuko Shirai’s mezzo, with its quicker vibrato and lighter ballast, is better able to catch the fragility and emotional volatility of Mahler’s songs, without quite having Pecková’s power to move at gut level. Shirai’s is a very personal sequence, interweaving Mahler’s piano- and orchestra-accompanied songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and from Rückert, and also including three earlier Songs of Youth. This gives a lively sense of Mahler’s work in progress. Tempi, too, are brisker, and the orchestral playing for the Rückert songs more discriminating and more transparent of texture. Hilary Finch