16 Nov 2012

Gustav Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, Kindertotenlieder.

Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.

While the orchestral versions of all three cycles are performed often, it is good to have the keyboard versions of these works, which give appropriate emphasis to the vocal line in the intimate collaboration between the vocalist and her accompanist. All solid performances, the engineering of this recording does not always serve the balances well, with the piano sometimes sounding distant from the voice. This is not an impediment in the recording itself, but detracts from some of the more extroverted passages in the second and third songs of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Ging’ heut morgen über’s Feld should have a robust quality, which does not emerge in the recording, and the following song, Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer needs an explosive, almost percussive opening, which is recorded at a somewhat low volume in this release. Nevertheless, the intimacy between the voice and piano is effective in the final song of the cycle, Die zwei blauen Augen, which benefits from the elegiac approach Haselböck gives the song. Never maudlin or indulgent, this interpretation gives a sense of the text, with phrasing that offers a sense of the poetic line within the larger context of the vocal structure.

With the Rückert-Lieder, though, the tempos are an issue, with Liebst du um Schönheit and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen sometimes falling short of the direction of the line that works admirably in Um Mitternacht. In the latter song, the intensity that some singers reserve for the final strophe is present throughout, as Haselböck shapes the work with solid phrasing and outstanding diction. The first song in this recording of the cycle, Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder seems somewhat detached, despite the intense and masterful accompaniment that never flags in this performance. Here, as elsewhere in the recording Ryan evinces a meticulous quality, with clean articulations and precise rhythms to bring out the line and define the textures.

The Kindertotenlieder are effective though, and marred only sometimes weak acoustics. In performing this cycle Haselböck has excellent focus in the first and last songs of the cycle, with a solid interpretation of Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n setting the tone appropriately. This familiar piece is appealing in this performance, as is the subsequent one, Nun seh’ ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen, in the somewhat introspective reading of the piece. Yet the final song of the cycle stands out for the convincing interpretation that the performers bring to In diesem Wetter, which has admirable intensity and narrative drive. This recording gives a sense of Haselböck’s fine mezzo, which stands well with some of the other recordings of this important song cycle from Mahler’s maturity. Haselböck has a range which fits this cycle particularly well, with resonant low notes, where needed, and a solid upper range that distinguishes her mezzo-soprano voice. Russell Ryan’s deft touch is a strong part of the recording, as he brings out lines, shapes the counterpoint, and supports the performance without competing with the singer in presenting the important Lieder from the turn of the last century.

James L. Zychowicz