WORKS: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Rückert Lieder; Maeterlinck Lieder
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano) NDR SO/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 439 928-2
Though not a conductor usually associated with Mahler, John Eliot Gardiner rarely produces less than inspired performances, and this disc proves no exception. Not that the recording will be without its detractors: Gardiner draws a smooth, well-honed, richly blended sound from the NDR SO that could doubtless be criticised for its inclination towards the homogenous international orchestral sound that is nowadays felt to be all-pervasive. To some, the individuality that the ‘great’ conductors once stamped on an orchestra will be missing. Yet Gardiner proves himself a master at judging Mahler’s orchestral palette: the solo woodwind lines emerge from one another in a supremely spun, metamorphosing thread.
The seamless, warm delivery of the technically flawless Anne Sofie von Otter poses the same question mark about individuality. Von Otter’s insights into Mahler’s settings are enveloped in a glow of sound which lacks the vivid character of, say, Janet Baker’s classic interpretations with Barbirolli (EMI). Baker deploys rich, dark tones to plumb the full emotional depths of ‘Um Mitternacht’, for example, in a way that not even von Otter, great artist as she is, can match.
Zemlinsky’s Maeterlinck songs seem ideally suited to von Otter, who skilfully points up the nuances of the Belgian symbolist’s fin-de-siècle eroticism. The songs, written in 1910 and 1913, were particularly admired by Alban Berg, who knew them by heart. The sweetness which Berg found so affecting was little appreciated at their performance in the infamous Viennese ‘Skandalkonzert’ in 1913, when the audience rioted in protest at the dissonant music of the Second Viennese School. The coupling of these Maeterlinck songs with the two Mahler cycles is a winning choice.