MAHLER Im Lenz.1 Winterlied.2 Ablösung im Sommer.3 Lieder eines fahhrenden Gesellen4. Des Knabenwunderhorn: Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen.5 Nicht wiedersehen.6 Kindertotenlieder7. Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Frühlingsmorgen8. Rückert Lieder9 • Bernarda Fink (mez); 1-3,6,8,9Anthony Spiri (pn); 4Gustav Mahler-Ens; 5,7,8Andrés Orozco-Estrada, cond; 5,7,8Tonkünstler-O Niederösterreich • HARMONIA MUNDI 902173 (77:53)
There are many pleasures on this new Mahler recital disc, not the least of which is the elegant musicianship and refined subtlety of the interpretations of the Slovenian-Argentinian mezzo-soprano, Bernarda Fink. Fink is prized by connoisseurs of Lieder for her creamy tone and restrained yet insightful readings of the song repertoire, and on this disc she does not disappoint, offering a representative sampling of Mahler’s songs from early to late works sung with a serene artistry. If there is any reason to quibble, it is with the relative sameness of the interpretations.
Fink possesses a warm, rounded, firm tone, strongest in its middle range, somewhat steely on top and a bit bland in the lower reaches. Her phrasing is impeccable; her inflections beautifully detailed; her German diction (Austria is her adoptive country) excellent. She approaches these songs as a storyteller, projecting simplicity, lyrical sadness, and nostalgia, though she rarely probes the dark undercurrents of much of the music.
She is partnered by musicians of the highest rank. Pianist Anthony Spiri plays with a rich resonance and great clarity. The two ensembles, both Mahler specialists, shape the music with great transparency, stressing the structure of the music and the prescient harmonic progressions with which Mahler bridged late Romanticism and pointed to modern composers like Schoenberg. The tempos throughout are quicker than those on many other recordings (“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” for example, is taken in 5:48 compared to 7:47 on a recording with Leonard Bernstein and Thomas Hampson). If one prefers one’s Mahler steeped in Weltschmerz, this recording will disappoint. Gone are the long, arching, stretched phrases of Bernstein or Tilson Thomas, replaced by an intricate tapestry of tonalities and modern chromatics.
The program, which is arranged largely chronologically, somewhat curiously alternates between the piano and orchestral versions of the songs, each of which Mahler had conceived as entirely self-contained versions. While the rationale for this is evident in the early songs, where the piano heightens the simplicity, or in “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen,” where the orchestral Klang enriches the tonal palette and the words, it seems a little disconcerting in the four selections from the Rückert Lieder. Though these do not constitute a song cycle, and Fink is completely free to choose her version, the combination makes for a slightly jarring recital program group.
Of the works on the disc, Fink shines best in the Kindertotenlieder. Here her opulent mezzo lends a touching maternal quality to the songs. She sings with a greater range of color and more intensity than elsewhere on the disc, building to a torrent of feeling in “In diesem Wetter.” Her handling of the early Lieder and Des Knaben Wunderhorn selections has a youthful girlishness and disarming simplicity that marries well to this “faux folk” material. The four Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen are delivered with a lyrical sadness, that for all its beauty, would sound superficial, were it not for the intricate chamber nuances brought to the performance by the nine-musician Gustav Mahler-Ensemble. The concluding group of four Rückert Lieder is moving and completely un-self-indulgent. Fink is most engaged in “Liebst du um Schönheit” and “Um Mitternacht” where she is partnered by Spiri, and somewhat detached and dignified in the final song, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” a musical-dramatic choice, perhaps—valid, if a little too understated.
The acoustic on the Harmonia Mundi disc is for the most part well balanced, though the piano sometimes sounds as if separated from the voice. The CD is attractively packaged, and the booklet offers a brief, but informative essay by Roman Hinke and well laid-out texts and translations, though no artist biographies.
For those who love Mahler’s songs in both their orchestral and piano incarnations, this recital selection is definitely worth a listen. For those who appreciate Bernarda Fink’s tasteful, classy, graceful approach to Lieder, this disc will surely delight. If it is not revelatory, it is still a very well constructed, beautiful recital.
DisappointingJune 22, 2014By Allen K. (Cambridge, MA)See All My Reviews"I'm a fan of Bernarda Fink and love these lieder, so why did I find the effort so flat? I wasn't moved for most of the CD. Perhaps I just know the Janet Baker, Kathleen Ferrier, Frederica Von Stade, and Christa Ludwig accounts too well. This recording just lacked heart for me. Oh well, back to Ms. Fink's recordings of Schumann and Brahms."Report Abuse