Mahler: Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
PERFORMER: Stephan Genz (baritone), Roger Vignoles (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Hyperion CDA 67645
Stephan Genz’s light, warm and cultured baritone is especially fine in reflecting the ghost voices and moonlight serenades of Mahler’s folk-inspired anthology. But it’s quite a challenge at the best of times for one singer to take on all challenges, especially without the selective orchestral wrappings which Mahler always intended for these songs.Perhaps it’s a welcome change to hear a less dark voice take on the grim military settings of ‘Revelge’ and ‘Der Tamboursg’sell’ than the likes of Quasthoff – on my own favourite selection, with Anne Sofie von Otter and Abbado conducting (on DG) – and John Shirley-Quirk (on Philips). Yet more attack is surely needed for the prisoner in the tower and what should be the increasingly desperate pleas of the starving child in ‘Das irdische Leben’. Genz and Vignoles between them surely tread too fastidiously in the satire of the song-contest between the cuckoo and the nightingale or St Anthony’s sermon to the fishes, where the piano part is taken at a very stately pace that never, to me, indicates watery slitheriness. This is the first time, though, that I’ve heard a male voice take on ‘Urlicht’, the song destined for the fourth movement of the Second Symphony; and its quiet serenity, as in ‘Wo die schonen trompeten blasen’, is what Genz does best. The cover art, a painting by Sergius Hruby, is more grotesque than anything Mahler could have contemplated, and in much worse taste.