Notes and Editorial Reviews
There's some misinformation that needs to be cleared up before getting to the performance itself. Although this chamber ensemble transcription is billed as the work of Schoenberg/Riehn, the fact is that Schoenberg had virtually nothing to do with it. He thought about making such an arrangement and jotted a few marginal notes in his score of the first movement. That's it. So the actual job fell to Rainer Riehn, who no one cares about, hence the need to assert Schoenberg's role in the process. This does an injustice to Riehn, whose work is exemplary and often quite imaginative. The music's chamber-like textures reduce very well to small forces, and if Riehn had only included a harp he might have captured the music's sound world with near
perfect success. As it is, he did quite well.
Next comes Kenneth Slowik's conducting. His tempos are on the slow side, though this only becomes a problem in Der Abschied, where the central funeral march has surprisingly little impact at its climax (the non-happening tam-tam doesn't help). Slowik claims historical justification for his approach, with its wide swings in tempo, based on the conducting of Wilhelm Mengelberg, who as we know learned some of Mahler's music (but not this work) from Mahler himself. The problem is, as all fans of Mengelberg know, the Dutch conductor didn't adopt such a capricious approach to tempo until late in his career, several decades after Mahler's death. So Slowik is talking nonsense--but more to the point, I do wish conductors would simply play the music and stop making excuses for what they are trying to do. Aside from a few unnecessary mannerisms at the very beginning of the work, Slowik's interpretation is perfectly legitimate as it stands.
What makes this release the best of all of the various chamber versions of this work is the singing. Of course the parts are easier to manage when set against smaller forces, but tenor John Elwes is terrific in all three of his songs, especially the difficult opening "Drinking Song of Earth's Misery". Similarly, baritone Russell Braun makes the best possible case for this alternative version of the work. His "Lonely Man in Autumn" is truly memorable, and were it not for the droopy tempos in Abschied, he would deserve special mention for his work there too. So behind all of the explanatory baggage, what we have here is an extremely well sung performance of Das Lied von der Erde, lovingly played and superbly recorded. For Mahlerians, I suspect that will be enticement enough.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Das Lied von der Erde by Gustav Mahler
Russell Braun (Baritone),
John Elwes (Tenor)
Smithsonian Chamber Players,
Santa Fe Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1908-1909; Vienna, Austria
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