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Mahler: Kindertotenlieder, Ruckertlieder / Janet Baker

Release Date: 05/04/1999 
Label:  Emi Great Recordings Of The Century Catalog #: 66996   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Dame Janet Baker
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hallé OrchestraNew Philharmonia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Only if you prefer, as Mahler did, a male soloist can you possibly want more; but if he had ever heard Janet Baker, he too would surely have changed his mind.

This disc is such a familiar face in the classical record catalogue that it has become the point of reference for Mahler song cycles. It would appear to be virtually beyond criticism, yet it is worth remembering that on its first release (minus the Rückertlieder) it did not meet with universal praise. Indeed, our pre-eminent Mahlerian, Deryck Cooke, found quite a few things that were not to his taste, particularly the over-affectionate phrasing from the conductor. Listening again to the now 35-year-old recordings makes one realise where some of that
Read more criticism was coming from, as well as making one sit up in admiration for the quality of musicianship on display, especially from Baker.

As might be expected with these artists, the songs that come off best are the deeper, more introspective ones. There is no better example than ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, and many collectors will already know the classic New Philharmonia version from the complete recording of 1969. EMI do us a real service by including here an earlier recording from 1967 which was made using spare studio time from the main sessions. If anything, it is even finer than the later one, showing a truly breathtaking control of words and shaping. The half tones employed by Baker give the song an ethereal feel, an almost other-worldly atmosphere that is difficult to dislodge from one’s mind. The spare instrumental lines are beautifully played by the Hallé. Generally this must count as one of the greatest versions of this song now before the public, the only real comparison coming from these same artists two years later. The intensity is still there, but the sense of wonderment and discovery in the earlier version is something rather special.

These general observations could be applied to other songs on the disc. I was particularly taken with ‘Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n’, the first of the Kindertotenlieder. How wonderful Baker’s handling of the text is here, with the tone filling out majestically on the words ‘in ewig Licht’ at around 3’56. Listen also to Barbirolli’s illumination of the cello line at 5’20, where the moulding of the phrase is so pliable. The heartrending shift to D major in the second song ‘Nun she ich wohl’, (around 2’51) with Baker floating over the orchestra on the word ‘Leuchten’, is thoroughly typical of these two artists’ loving attention to detail.

Where they are less successful (and this is probably where Cooke’s misgivings were directed) is in the more youthful ‘Wayfarer’ cycle. Here there is no doubt that a slightly more fleet-of-foot accompaniment would have helped. They just about get away with it in ‘Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht’, though even here one feels Baker wants to move things on against her conductor’s wishes. But the second song, the famous ‘Ging heut morgen übers Feld’ is simply too plodding to be properly effective. If one compares Brigitte Fassbaender and Riccardo Chailly (Decca) here, there is no doubt the faster tempo and ‘sprung’ accompaniment is far more convincing. The wild storm of ‘Ich hab ein glühend Messer’ is also a touch tame for my liking in Barbirolli’s hands, where Chailly really whips up excitement. One also feels that Chailly observes correctly Mahler’s marking of without sentimentality in ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’, whereas Barbirolli teeters perilously close to it. Having said that, the constant illumination of words and phrases from Baker and Barbirolli usually more than compensate. It is just worth remembering that there is more than one approach to these masterpieces, and most serious collectors would almost certainly not be content with only one version of the complete cycles. As mentioned above, ‘Ich bin der Welt’ seems to be in a different class from almost anything else on the disc, and is worth the modest outlay for that alone.

Recording quality is excellent, full, warm and spacious, with plenty of detail. Affectionate notes (to match the music making) are by the friend of both artists, Michael Kennedy. Keen Mahlerites will probably have these performances anyway, but younger collectors investing in this new incarnation will have little cause for complaint.

-- Tony Haywood, MusicWeb International


This peerless collection now returns in even more beautifully hallowed remasterings and with both Baker-Barbirolli recordings of the Rückert setting ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ – its reverie is more inward, its anguished recollections of the hurly-burly world more intense in the first, Hallé version not featured in the previous CD release.

Odd blotches in the orchestral copybook include a glockenspiel playing a third too high and a Claydermanesque swirl of piano instead of harp in Rückert’s ‘Midnight Song’. They are obliterated by major miracles: the mesh of voice and personable Hallé woodwind throughout the Kindertotenlieder, the chastening unsentimental focus of the last ‘Wayfarer’ song, glowing vocal pianissimos that have to be heard to be believed. Only if you prefer, as Mahler did, a male soloist can you possibly want more; but then one imagines that if the composer had ever experienced the Baker artistry, he too would have changed his mind.

Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)

-- David Nice, BBC Music Magazine
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Works on This Recording

Kindertotenlieder by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hallé Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1904; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 05/04/1967 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London 
Length: 27 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Language: German 
Rückert Lieder (5) by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/1969 
Venue:  Watford Town Hall, England 
Length: 19 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Language: German 
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hallé Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883-1896; Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/04/1967 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London 
Length: 17 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Language: German 
Rückert Lieder (5): no 3, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hallé Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 05/04/1967 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London 
Length: 6 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Language: German 

Sound Samples

Kindertotenlieder (Rückert) (1999 Digital Remaster): I: Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n
Kindertotenlieder (Rückert) (1999 Digital Remaster): II: Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen
Kindertotenlieder (Rückert) (1999 Digital Remaster): III: Wenn dein Mütterlein, tritt zur Tür herein
Kindertotenlieder (Rückert) (1999 Digital Remaster): IV: Oft denk' ich, sie sind nur augesgangen!
Kindertotenlieder (Rückert) (1999 Digital Remaster): V: In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus
Five Rückert-Lieder (1999 Digital Remaster): I: Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!
Five Rückert-Lieder (1999 Digital Remaster): II: Ich atmet' einen linden Duft!
Five Rückert-Lieder (1999 Digital Remaster): III: Um Mitternacht
Five Rückert-Lieder (1999 Digital Remaster): IV: Liebst du um Schönheit (orch. Max Puttmann)
Five Rückert-Lieder (1999 Digital Remaster): V: Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1999 Digital Remaster): I: Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1999 Digital Remaster): II: Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1999 Digital Remaster): III: Ich hab' ein glühend Messer
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1999 Digital Remaster): IV: Die zwei blauen Augen
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (1999 Digital Remaster)

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 Historic Baker performances May 12, 2013 By Gail M. (Goleta, CA) See All My Reviews "This compilation is for those interested in the Mahler performances of Janet Baker with orchestras conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Here the performances hardly can be faulted; the sound provided by EMI is the issue. The singer is placed acoustically well in front of the orchestra, so her voice never is in danger of being overwhelmed. But there are extraneous sounds on most of the bands. The Kindertoten songs are least affected, but in the 5 Ruckertlieder songs one often hears a curious rustling sound just before the louder vocal entries, and in one song something falls in the background near the end of the piece. In several places there seem to be moments of voices speaking in the background. These are surprising defects considering that the recordings date from 1968 and 1970. Played through speakers at modest volume they may not be objectionable or even noticeable for some listeners. For this release the song of Band 10 is repeated in Band 15, apparently from a diferent performance." Report Abuse
 outstanding recording ! April 16, 2013 By Francois W. (Vancouver, WA) See All My Reviews "I owne a pretty full collection of Mahler's works and I have to admit that this is one of the best ! It's full of passion and emotion thanks to the superb singing of Janet Baker in complete harmony with the orchestra. A must buy !" Report Abuse
 Mezzo Sings Mahler Lieder June 19, 2012 By Jack Funkhouser (Jacksonville, FL) See All My Reviews "A number of years ago I acquired the Mahler Lieder on laser-disc with Thomas Hampson,Bernstein and the Wiener Phil. I never thought of a woman singing this repertoire so successfully. However, my recently acquired ArkivMusic CD of Janet Baker and Sir John Barbirolli was a revelation. I have always admired Baker's voice and interpretations; but was pleasantly surprised with the neuanced interpretation she brought to these Lieder. I will not give up my Hampson/Bernstein; but I will cherish the Baker/Barbirolli. Thanks, ArchivMusic for making this wonderful performance available." Report Abuse
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