Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn – 13 Lieder

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Oehms
WORKS: Des Knaben Wunderhorn – 13 Lieder
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano), Michael Volle (baritone); Gürzenich Orchestra Köln/Markus Stenz
CATALOGUE NO: OC 657

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Many of these songs come up sounding fresh as the day they were born, as befits Mahler’s earlier settings of Arnim’s and Brentano’s treated folk poetry. Expect a few surprises: soprano Christiane Oelze isn’t allowed to drag her heels or overdo the romantic nostalgia of ‘Wo die schonen Trompeten blasen’, and baritone Michael Volle’s military narratives are crisp and direct, with splendid fanfaring from the Cologne players, rather than heavy-laden.

The range required is always tricky for just two singers. Michael Volle may not be the bass-baritone needed in some numbers, as Thomas Quasthoff is for Claudio Abbado (DG) or John Shirley-Quirk for Bernard Haitink (on Philips, though currently unavailable); and you wouldn’t expect one of the top Jokanaans and Beckmessers of our day to have the right honeyed tones for ‘Rheinlegendchen’ or ‘Das Schildwache Nachtlied’.

Indeed, there I’d have expected Christiane Oelze to take over for the girl’s responses, as she does in three later numbers on the disc (is there a precedent for a unison duet at the end of ‘Trost im Unglück’?). She, too, isn’t quite the sensuous dreamer we sometimes need, though she has all the notes for an unusual narrative of donkey-as-critic. 

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Presumably the performance of ‘Das himmlische Leben’ is taken from Stenz’s complete Mahler Fourth (reviewed this issue, p71), and I can’t say I warm to it any more. But otherwise there’s plenty of point and wit both from the spotlit orchestral solos and the singers throughout. David Nice