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Mahler: Orchestral Songs / Gerhaher, Nagano, Montreal Symphony Orchestra

Mahler / Gerhaher,Christian
Release Date: 10/08/2013 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 370133   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Christian Gerhaher
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Kindertotenlieder. Rückert-Lieder Christian Gerhaher (bar); Kent Nagano, cond; Montreal SO SONY 8883701332 (54:43 Text and Translation)

Longtime Fanfare readers will be aware of my allergy to labelling any artist “the best.” In works that have been recorded many times, there is no “best” recording. Different elements of any great piece of music receive a slightly different emphasis in different Read more performances, and that may be valid. That does not mean, however, that there are no value judgments possible, but it should serve as a context for the comments to follow.

Christian Gerhaher’s singing of these three Mahler orchestral cycles will not be called, at least here, “the best” recording available. But it is surely worthy of being considered when one is making a short list of great recordings of this music, and anyone who loves these songs and is not surgically joined to only one recorded performance of them should hear this.

There are elements of his voice and his approach to singing that recall Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. That is no surprise, as Gerhaher studied with Fischer-Dieskau (as well as with Schwarzkopf and Borkh). What distinguishes Gerhaher from his teacher is the simplicity of his approach. Fischer-Dieskau brilliantly analyzed the dramatic and/or psychological meaning of every word and musical phrase that he sang. At his best, the result was a dramatically engaging and convincing performance. Sometimes, however, the turning of those gears was evident and the result was fussy or mannered. Gerhaher is a more natural singer: The music comes first.

“The music comes first” can be a lazy way of saying “he sings beautifully but doesn’t convey any depth.” That is certainly not the case here. Infinite shades of meaning are communicated, but you are never aware of the thought process or technical device Gerhaher is using to do it. One British critic, ecstatically reviewing a recital at Wigmore Hall, said “… it’s true that he doesn’t peck obsessively at nuances in the manner of a Schwarzkopf or Fisher-Dieskau. For him, purity of line is always paramount, fuelled by an immense sweetness of tone.” But that same critic also goes on to say that Gerhaher’s Schumann songs were “essays in pain, heartbreak, and alienation, painted with a rich simplicity that never became lugubrious or self-indulgent.…”

As I listened repeatedly to these Mahler songs, I found it difficult to point to a specific line or phrase to explain the effectiveness of these performances. Their success is less a compilation of exquisite details (though there are, in fact, many) than it is the overall beauty of the singing. Gerhaher is keenly aware of the texts (his diction is stunningly clear), and that awareness shapes his shading and his inflection, as well as his choice of vocal color. But the flow is so natural, the sense of how the music should go so completely inevitable, that as you are listening you are unaware of the details.

Kent Nagano and his Montreal musicians are completely tuned into the singer, and provide extremely sensitive orchestral playing. The recorded sound is perfectly balanced to provide a natural perspective between singer and orchestra, orchestral detail, and a sense of overall blend. I recommend this to all who love this music and/or good singing; it is likely to wind up on my year-end Want List.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel


Christian Gerhaher is a splendid Lieder singer. He has already recorded some of these songs with piano (on RCA), and like those versions these live recordings, before a not ideally quiet audience, display a touching intimacy and spontaneity. The Songs of a Wayfarer come across best, as both the singing and the conducting have a youthful freshness that suits the music especially well. The final song of the Kindertotenlieder is also quite exciting at this tempo, and the concluding lullaby is sung with a gentle simplicity that’s absolutely exquisite. The entire cycle also features some very beautiful playing from the solo winds, oboe and horn especially.

There are a couple of places, however, where the tempos seem a touch swifter than ideal. This is particularly noticeable in the first of the Kindertotenlieder, and also in the big Rückert songs, especially Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. That song needs a more deliberate approach to realize all of its innate Innigkeit, that “inward” quality that Mahler has expressed so well. Here, perhaps, Nagano is at fault, because there’s no gainsaying the sensitivity of Gerhaher’s singing. However, the climax of Um Mitternacht is very well done, the harp and piano nicely present and the whole ensemble ideally balanced against the voice to let Gerhaher sing at full volume without screaming—and it’s especially good to hear these songs sung by a baritone. Under ideal studio conditions this disc could have been truly special—no audience noise, and perhaps the performers would have had a chance to reconsider those controversial tempos. As it is, this is still very good, and a worthwhile acquisition for connoisseurs of characterful Lieder singing.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Christian Gerhaher (Baritone), Christian Gerhaher ()
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883-1896; Germany 
Venue:  OSM's Maison symphonique de Montréal 
Length: 15 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Kindertotenlieder by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Christian Gerhaher ()
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1904; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  OSM's Maison symphonique de Montréal 
Length: 21 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Rückert Lieder (5) by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Christian Gerhaher ()
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  OSM's Maison symphonique de Montréal 
Length: 16 Minutes 27 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 A More Gentle Mahler November 8, 2013 By Joseph Lieber, MD (Great Neck, NY) See All My Reviews "Gerhaher and Nagano with the MSO offer a more gentle and subdued Mahler document that, never the less, bring the passion to these works. The orchestral playing and conducting provide a strong backbone and the singing hits the spot. Though lacking in some drama and tension, the interpertation is lovely. May not be the one to go to but a great addition to those with many readings of these pieces who want to heat the orchestral songs with a bit less intensity." Report Abuse
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