Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

WORKS: Das Lied von der Erde
PERFORMER: Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano), Donald Litaker (tenor); Arnhem PO/Martin Sieghart
CATALOGUE NO: Exton HGO 0702 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Exton’s monochrome cover suggests predictable priorities: rising star Christianne Stotijn appears in close‑up, with fellow artist Donald Litaker hovering ghost-like over her left shoulder. In fact it’s the tenor songs in Mahler’s symphony of fraught life and easeful death that make the biggest impact here. Litaker projects the here-and-now of the eloquently translated Chinese poetry with special care over accents. He also stylishly avoids making the usual meal of the upper register Mahler so cruelly makes him inhabit. I can’t recall a tenor since Klemperer’s Wunderlich – assisted, admittedly, by EMI’s artful recorded balance – who excelled both in the dramatic extremes of the drinking-songs and in the porcelain prettiness of the shortest number, ‘On Youth’. It helps that Litaker doesn’t have to force against the modest ensemble of the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra; nor does sensible conductor Martin Sieghart make any unnatural demands. Stotijn has the easier task of immediately capturing the listener’s sympathies, and the more rewarding one of plumbing the sorrowful depths. Her weighty mezzo with its fast vibrato doesn’t mesh easily with the oboe lament of ‘The Lonely Man in Autumn’, and fitful support means a few pitching problems in the sudden surges of emotion. She does, though, make a smiling dream out of the ode to beauty, and paradoxically produces the most affecting sounds when following Mahler’s injunctions to sing ‘without expression’. The earth doesn’t exactly blossom at the end of the great ‘Farewell’ either in voice or orchestra – crucial, I think, for a four-star recommendation; but this is a role into which Stotijn may yet grow, as did her current coach Dame Janet Baker.