STEWART CROWE Reply to on 14 February 2012
|This recording of a live concert is remarkable for the last of 3 recordings available conducted by Giulini with the same vocal artists. This time, the orchestra is the incomparable Vienna Philharmonic.
The concert begins with a Mozart 40 which is very much in the traditional, or old fashioned vein-in other words, it's big and it's slow (35+ plus minutes compared to 64 for Das Lied! That's SLOW). This will be intensely disliked by those who must have their Mozart lithe and lean. The more open- minded will find it beautifully and elegantly poised-wonderfully played and recorded-and if not how they always want to hear this work played, at least a fascinating and enjoyable experience in itself. Comparisons with Klemperer and Colin Davis in Dresden come to mind, and if you can take their style, you will enjoy this performance.
The reason for my enthusiasm is the Das Lied von Der Erde , a work with which I am besotted, with near 70 recordings at last count. So many have great virtues, but of late I particularly enjoy the live Kubelik, especially for Waldemar Kmentt's echt-Viennese unfolding of the tenor songs-and the recording under review which is my "non-pareil."
The Digital 1987 Salzburg recording made by ORF and remastered by Orfeo is sumptuous and detailed-I cannot recall this work better played or recorded, with excellent and natural balance, extraordinary detail and a real sense of presence. There are one or two audience coughs at quiet moments, and some occasional muted grunting from the conductor, but nothing of real concern. The orchestral playing is superhuman-just perfect, with the rich but luminous strings and refulgent brass that mark the unique sound of this, the greatest orchestra with which to hear Mahler.
Giulini's conducting is yet another surprise-swift, fluid and lithe without ever becoming anonymous, he lets Mahler do the hard work-in other words, he lets the music speak for itself. He handles the tempo transition in Von Der Schonheit perfectly, and never allows Der Abschied to become mawkish. The portentous orchestral section in the middle of this last movement is chilling and powerful, played with incredible weight-but does not outstay its welcome.
This is a radically different approach from his earlier DG and its broadly contemporary Testament live recording from Berlin, and it is revelatory in this work.
He has retained the same soloists, though Araiza is barely recognisable from his first recording. His voice has strengthened, with a truly heroic upper register, dispelling all criticism of "too Italianate"-one would believe he is a German singer, and his German is exemplary. He sings all the notes in opening song, like Heppner and Wunderlich but few others, with no snatched or shouted phrases-and if he does not dispel all thoughts of Wunderlich in this work, he stands proudly alongside him at least. Whereas he was accused of "not being involved" in the DG recording, particularly in the opening song, here is committed and as dramatic as could be wished for in each of his songs
I do not care for the more Contralto voice in this work-thus, though it may be heresy to suggest this-I do not care for Ferrier and Janet Baker, though as Ralph Moore points out Dame Janet is a true mezzo- in the female part, though Baker almost convinces me in the Kubelik. To me there is an over ripe quality to her tone, and I find a lack of expression in her performance-but that's a purely personal quirk, if you like.
I prefer a lighter mezzo, such as Christa Ludwig and Marjana Lipovsek, and for me there is no better interpreter of these songs than Brigitte Fassbaender.
She does not have the most assured rich tone of any of the aforementioned, but the way in which she uses her expressive voice to interpret these songs is a thing of wonder-and this is the best performance of those she recorded-she is in even better voice than on the first DG studio issue. I defy anyone to remain dry eyed at the close, not from sadness but from the effects of the sheer nobility of this interpretation.
You may have gathered that I really love this recording.
These matters are always subjective-but I have loved and lived with this piece for 45 years, and feel that I had not really heard it until this performance.
If you possess the superb Kubelik, or one of the myriad fine recordings of this work available, I am not suggesting that you discard it-but I am suggesting that you create an opportunity to hear this exalted performance, one of music making's truly great events and experiences. Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe.