Mahler, Webern

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COMPOSERS: Mahler,Webern
LABELS: Hänssler faszinationmusik
WORKS: Kindertotenlieder; Adagio from Symphony No. 10. Passacaglia, Op. 1; Im Sommerwind
PERFORMER: Cornelia Kallisch (mezzo-soprano); Baden-Baden & Freiburg SWR SO/ Michael Gielen
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.062
Lacking a star mezzo to head its curious programme, the latest in Michael Gielen’s series twinning Mahler with the Second Viennese School might seem like a difficult anthology to market. Yet many a more lustrous big name – Bryn Terfel for DG, Michelle DeYoung for San Francisco Symphony (reviewed in June), to name but two – fails to come anywhere near the expressive depths plumbed by Cornelia Kallisch in Mahler’s anguished but spare Songs on the Deaths of Children. Sensitively entwined with the handful of woodwind solos which act as sorrowing companions, and cutting straight to the heart of the few climactic phrases without sham emoting, Kallisch comes close to Janet Baker’s unsurpassable interpretation with Barbirolli, even if she lacks Baker’s luminous warmth of tone and range of colour.

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Gielen then provocatively unfolds the Adagio from Mahler’s Tenth as an organic, quivering whole rather than alternating bouts of monumental slow and faster grotesquerie, before presenting us with Webern’s splashily cheerful Im Sommerwind, a work that hardly provides a strong Apollonian finale to the prevailing song of death. But it’s a thought-provoking sequence all the same, held together by Gielen’s customary muscular lyricism and playing well beyond the usual competence of a regional German orchestra. David Nice