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Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn / Boulez, Kozena, Gerhaher, Cleveland Orchestra

Release Date: 10/05/2010 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001469902  
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Christian GerhaherMagdalena Kozená
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cleveland Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Symphony No. 10: Adagio Pierre Boulez, cond; Magdalena Kožená (mez); Christian Gerhaher (bar); Cleveland O DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 9060 (73:24 Text and Translation) Live: Cleveland 2/2010

This new disc comes hard on the heels of the superlative Wunderhorn program conducted by Markus Stenz (reviewed last issue). It represents the Read more culmination of the Boulez Mahler discography on DG, a survey that spans 15 years and encompases all of the completed symphonies, Totenfeier , and an earlier song program. Abbado’s Wunderhorn recording, also on DG, is one of the most impressive in the discography, so it was useful to compare this new entry to the established classic. Another classic, Szell’s on EMI, is also interesting to consider, since it was due to Szell’s advocacy that Boulez came to Cleveland in the early 70s.

There are, of course, three ways to present the orchestral Des Knaben Wunderhorn : for single voice (Fischer-Dieskau/Barenboim/Sony, for example); for two voices (Quasthoff/von Otter/Abbado); and for two voices with duets (Fischer-Dieskau/Schwarzkopf/Szell and the Stenz disc). Boulez has opted for the middle course, with the vocalists singing solo. Christian Gerhaher sings “Der Schildwache Nachtlied,” “Trost im Unglück,” “Des Antonious von Padua Fischpredigt,” “Lied des Verfolgten im Turm,” and “Der Tamboursg’sell”; Magdalena Kožená is heard on “Verlorne Müh,” “Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?,” “Das irdische Leben,” “Rheinlegendchen,” “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen,” and “Lob des hohen Verstandes.” It is identical to the Abbado program except that Quasthoff sings “Lob des hohen Verstandes” on that disc.

Appraising a vocal disc is obviously almost entirely a matter of taste when it is performed by artists of this caliber. Quasthoff’s sturdy baritone tends toward the bass, while Gerhaher’s is a lyrical, light-toned voice that is closer to the tenor range. He invests the songs with character, variety, and enough gravitas to be convincing; the only caveat I will offer is that in “Tamboursg’sell” I prefer the deeper tone of Quasthoff or Fischer-Dieskau.

I have no qualms concerning the contribution of Kožená; her light, quick vibrato is quite pleasing, as is her lush, mature mezzo. She is quite comfortable in this repertoire, and her characterizations are idiomatic and never overdone. Von Otter tends to dramatize her songs in a more overt way, which is not a criticism, just an observation. Boulez accompanies with sensitivity, injecting lilt and lushness where it’s needed and sounding properly martial for the songs that call for it. The sound is excellent for a live concert, and the Cleveland Orchestra sounds splendid.

It’s amusing that Boulez endorsed (and recorded) the completed Lulu , for which Friedrich Cerha orchestrated nearly 1,000 bars of act III, but he disparages any of the completed versions of Mahler’s 10th (which he characterizes as “rather poor” without distinguishing between them) and will only perform the Adagio (which he has now recorded twice). It’s also interesting to note that his earlier recording of the Adagio (with the LSO) accompanied the premiere recording of the reconstructed Das klagende Lied , an unconvincing hybrid of the original Waldmärchen tacked onto the revised edition of the final two movements.

This performance opens with a proper Andante , the way it should; the Adagio then enters at a flowing but notably broader pace. Boulez finds an emotional balance somewhere short of full-on bathos but far from neutral. Inner voice clarity is practically a given with this conductor, but notable nonetheless; also remarkable are the nuanced dynamics. The sweep of the principal theme is fully exploited. The “crisis” episode builds to a satisfying climax as the dissonant chord is constructed; then, it is suddenly dissipated on airy, fluid string tones.

This is a very well-performed and generously filled disc. I still prefer the duet versions on EMI and Oehms, but this new recording is a satisfying final volume in the always-interesting Boulez Mahler series.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot

This is the best Boulez recording in quite a while. He offers the canonic 12 Wunderhorn songs, meaning no Urlicht and no Das himmlische Leben in the original orchestration before it became the finale of the Fourth Symphony. You won't miss them. None of the songs are done as duets, and you won't be bothered by that either. The singing is exceptional: Magdalena Kozená combines a sweet timbre with plenty of personality and attention to the words; Christian Gerhaher's light, somewhat grainy baritone may not be to all tastes, but his unfailing musicality and his gusto (singing but never shouting) in the big "military" songs carries the day.

Boulez conducts marvelously. There are a couple of points, in Trost im Unglück and Lob des hohen Verstandes, where he may not quite capture the music's humor, but elsewhere there's nothing to carp about; he's relaxed and obviously enjoying himself. The daringly slow tempo in Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? makes you wonder how Kozená will ever be able to manage her "yodel of death" at the end, but Boulez picks up the tempo just enough to make it possible. The result is delectable. And of course, wherever the music turns dark or march-like, Boulez excels.

The orchestra plays magnificently, and the last song, Der Tamboursg'sell, perfectly sets up the Adagio of the Tenth. Boulez's flowing tempo sounds just about perfect here, and the climax is absolutely shattering in its power and clarity. The live engineering captures the soloists and orchestra in good balance while minimizing audience and performance noise very effectively. There are several excellent recordings of the Wunderhorn songs, but if you like this coupling--which offers excellent value for money--or are collecting Boulez's Mahler, then don't hesitate for a minute.

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

Des Knaben Wunderhorn by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Christian Gerhaher (Baritone), Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cleveland Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1898; Hamburg, Germany 
Symphony no 10 in F sharp minor/major: 1st movement, Adagio by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cleveland Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; Austria 

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