Notes and Editorial Reviews
If you have Bernstein/Ludwig/Berry performing this music and you buy this new version, you'll have all you need for Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Riccardo Chailly offers the most fabulous orchestral playing imaginable: those celebrated Concertgebouw winds have a field-day with Lob des hohen Verstands and St. Anthony of Padua's Fish Sermon. In Revelge the big martial buildup at the center of the song is positively terrifying in its violence. Equally terrifying in its quiet, oppressive dread is Der Tamboursg'sell. Enough of this: you won't hear these songs better played or conducted anywhere.
As for the singing, Barbara Bonney and Matthias Goerne both stand among the finest exponents of these songs. Goerne's dark baritone
characterizes the military songs perfectly: he can switch from heroic to despairing from one note to the next, while Bonney sings with unaffected purity of tone and (in Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?) excellent breath control. Sara Fulgoni does a fine job with Urlicht (the brass thankfully
not positioned offstage as Chailly foolishly did in his recording of the complete Second Symphony), but tenor Gösta Winbergh barks his way through Revelge like a Fischer-Dieskau who just sucked in a shot of helium. When he actually sings instead of shouting he's just fine, and thankfully this is his only song.
There's a musicological aspect to this production as well, though you'd never know it to read Donald Mitchell's stupid notes, which purport to shed "new light" on the music but never actually discuss in detail the more important issues that these performances raise. For example, Mitchell decries the practice of sharing vocal parts in the "duet" songs (there's nothing wrong with that fairly common practice, not adopted here, which Mitchell calls a "crass error" on no other evidence than the fact that he evidently has decided that he doesn't like it), and reduces his "musicology" to statements like "It is no exaggeration to claim that for each song Mahler invents a unique orchestra." Well, I hate to break the news to you, Donald, but this claim is as exaggerated and untrue as it is irrelevant to enjoyment of the music.
What Mitchell does not discuss with any specificity beyond Revelge is the fact that Chailly evidently has attempted to perform each number with Mahler's original voice types (and, we presume, keys), hence the tenor in that song. Chailly also includes both Urlicht and Das himmlische Leben in their original pre-symphony orchestrations. There's very little difference in the former, most notably chimes taking the place of the glockenspiel in the central section. But in the latter song, which eventually became the finale of the Fourth Symphony, a tambourine does duty for the symphony's famous sleigh bells and plays a significantly altered part (as do the timpani and other percussion), and there are several reassignments of lines between strings and winds (with a touch more piccolo here and there). All of these interesting
musical points are ignored by Mitchell in favor of bland assertions presented as original "discoveries" about the chamber-like orchestration (nothing original there in scholarly discussion of these pieces) intermixed with silly editorializing as noted above.
I want to stress that none of this alters or otherwise has anything to do with the musical superiority of the program itself. The general excellence of Chailly, his orchestra, and the singers tells its own story. It's just a pity that Mitchell should have so singularly missed the opportunity to explain exactly what makes these performances special or interesting as compared to the numerous others available. Decca's sonics place the singers marginally too close to the microphones (typically) but don't significantly compromise the clarity or fullness of the orchestrations. This is an excellent musical experience in every respect: if you love these songs, snap this disc up without delay.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Des Knaben Wunderhorn by Gustav Mahler
Matthias Goerne (Baritone),
Barbara Bonney (Soprano),
Gösta Winbergh (Tenor),
Sara Fulgoni (Mezzo Soprano)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Written: 1892-1898; Hamburg, Germany
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