Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

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ALBUM TITLE: Mahler – Lieder
WORKS: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
PERFORMER: Violeta Urmana, Anne Sofir von Otter, Thomas QuasthoffVienna Philharmonic OrchestraPierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5329
This looked particularly promising;


and, given the line-up, these

are inevitably performances

of considerably beauty and

accomplishment. Nevertheless,

by the end, I felt curiously shortchanged.

The performances, with the

exception of Thomas Quasthoff’s,

are too often disconcertingly

uninvolving, and lack real presence.

The playing is as clearly

articulated as one would expect

from this orchestra, in this venue

(home at the Musikverein), with

this conductor. But the soloists are

placed to the fore, and the orchestra

is strangely distant, both acoustically

and expressively. Quasthoff’s

is a heavy load of sorrow as the

Wayfaring Lad: his bass-baritone

weighs down every syllable, and the

fact that the song lies a little high

for him actually sharpens the blade’s

edge in the third song.

But both Violeta Urmana and

Anne Sofie von Otter are less

happily cast. The Rückert songs

really do need a mezzo-soprano and

Urmana, though radiant in the first

three songs, never really engages

in the last songs’ dark night of the

soul. Von Otter’s Kindertotenlieder

is poorly paced by Boulez: Mahler

emphasised how important the

relationship of one song is to

another here, yet they move with

a uniformly slow, grey pace. Von

Otter sings with a disappointingly

narrow palette of colour and

expression and, in the final storm,

substitutes an over-enunciated near-

Sprechgesang for true intensity.

No baritone has yet surpassed

the expressive span of Dietrich

Fischer-Dieskau’s 1968 Gesellen

Lieder, with the wonderfully

sentient, plein-air accompaniment

of the Bavarian Radio Orchestra

under Rafael Kubelík. And

no mezzo has equalled Janet

Baker’s incomparably moving

Kindertotenlieder with Barbirolli

and the Hallé Orchestra, from

1967. I admire Dagmar Pe?ková’s

recordings of both these cycles, and

would consider her Rückert Lieder, with Ji?i B?lohlávek’s Prague

Chamber Philharmonic as a worthy


benchmark. Hilary Finch