WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Rückert-Lieder
PERFORMER: Christine Schäfer (soprano), German SO, Berlin/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: 5026
In this performance of Mahler’s First individual touches are few and far between, and not all to the good. I dislike Christoph Eschenbach’s ponderous way with the Tchaikovsky tune in the finale, even if the payoff works, and his masterful ritardandos are excessive. On the plus side, the clarinet’s false cuckoo call in the first movement leads hauntingly into the main song, and the other wind players register the rhythm of the third-movement forest calls spiritedly.
It’s a shame the Berlin Radio strings can’t match such character; perhaps the studio recording’s to blame, but the violins sound rather glassy. As, at times, does Christine Schäfer in the Rückert-Lieder. You wouldn’t have thought a Sophie/Gilda/Lulu voice was right for the heroics of the midnight monologue, though this works best; in recording, Schäfer doesn’t have to worry about riding the brass ensemble. But wrong, surely, is the unfathomable pulling about of ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’, which needs to begin with the utmost simplicity.
In the CD booklet the Rückert texts are reproduced in the wrong order; and although the chief fault of the note is its odd translation, the writer is wrong to assert that the third movement’s ‘central part’ comes from the Wayfarer song described here as ‘Went this morning over the field’ – rather, Mahler here evokes his peaceful song-finale. David Nice