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08 Oct 2005

MAHLER: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Fünf Rückert-Lieder

In recent years the few recordings of Mahler’s Lieder with piano accompaniment demonstrate the delicacy of the music in this format and its connections traditional Romantic Lieder. To such fine examples as those by Stephan Genz (on Hyperion) and Thomas E. Bauer (on Ars Musici), Konrad Jarnot is a fine addition.

Gustav Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Fünf Rückert-Lieder; Der Abschied

Konrad Jarnot, baritone; Helmut Deutsch, piano

Oehms Classics OC 324 [CD]


Jarnot’s baritone sound is supple and flexible, with a fine upper register that matches the middle and lower ranges. Because of this, the higher notes that occur in “Ging heut morgen übers Feld” (the second of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) emerge comfortably and without any hint of head tones. He uses this register well in the subsequent song, “Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer,” to convey the passion that is essential to its meaning. As to the first and last songs, Jarnot’s performance is effective. In “Die zwei blauen Augen” he treats the songs with an appropriate lightness that suggests the wistfulness conveyed in the text. The sustained phrases in this song resemble the way Jarnot treats the long vocal lines in the first piece in the cycle, “Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht.”

In this performance, the accompaniment supports the voice well, with the kind of nuanced playing that Helmut Deutsch reliably offers. He makes the music in this scoring sound appropriate and full, as is evident in the final song in the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Elsewhere, the clarity of various figures contributes to the careful evident throughout his interpretations of this piece. In this recording Deutsch’s performance suggests chamber music in the best sense.The full sound that he commands from the piano supports Jarnot’s voice well, and points to the effective use of the instrument in accompanying this cycle, which also exists with an orchestral accompaniment.

The set of Fünf Rückert-Lieder are delivered well, and the light baritone sound of Jarnot allows him to express the lines fluidly. The softer tones sometimes merge with the piano, to create some fine effects. When the music requires a more extroverted approach, Jarnot responds accordingly to make a song like “Liebst du um Schönheit” distinctively subtle. The performance of that particular song suggests some of the Lieder of Richard Strauss that were composed at the turn of the century. Yet one of the telling songs for any vocalist who approaches Mahler is the quintessential “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.” This song suffers, at times, from being oversung when vocalists impose too much emotion onto the music and fail to allow the vocal line and accompaniment to intersect. When performers treat this song, in particular, as chamber music for voice and piano, it is possible to hear the piano respond to the voice and, at times, take the line forward instrumentally to the singer’s next utterance of the text. Such is the case with Jarnot and Deutsch, who perform “Ich bin der Welt” well together in a thoughtful performance that is followed by an equally impressive interpretation of “Um Mitternacht.” “Um Mitternacht” is effective here because of the restraint with which Jarnot and Deutsch treat the first part of the song, so that it can build naturally to its anthem-like conclusion. Controlled, rather than contrived, the performers create the emotional pitch to make the song meaningful. It is, after all, a moment out of time, a reflection that becomes clearer upon consideration, as denoted in the text. In some ways the accompaniment suggests an orchestral milieu through the cascading chords with which it concludes and almost covers the voice.

The surprise on this recording is the inclusion of one further song, “Der Abschied,” the final piece in the cycle Das Lied von der Erde. In recent years baritones and basses have taken up the part that is often sung by the contralto, as found in recordings of the entire piece by such singers as Thomas Hampson and Bo Skovhus. Less common is the excerpting of “Der Abschied” from the cycle, but it can be done successfully, as Stephanie Blythe has already done, albeit in a reduced orchestration.

Those considerations aside, the inclusion of this piece with the other vocal music by Mahler is a fine addition to the recording. Jarnot offers a solid treatment of this song, which is actually a combination of two poems from Hans Bethge’s Chinesische Flöte. Comparisons with some of the fine contraltos are unnecessary this performance, which differs from the orchestral versions that have involved such fine musicians as Dame Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Waltraud Meier, Michelle de Young, and others. Jarnot approaches this piece convincingly, always keeping the musical line focused and clear, and Deutsch conveys the musical meaning well through its range of tones, dynamics, articulations, and, above all, technique. While “Der Abschied” is optimally heard in the context of the entire cycle Das Lied von der Erde, this performance is highly effective. This music is removed from the style Mahler used Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, with “Der Abschied” showing, at times, some expressive tendencies that would emerge more distinctively in the vocal music of Alban Berg. This performance of “Der Abschied” is an excellent contribution to recent Mahler recordings, and its shows Jarnot to be a reliable interpreter of the composer’s music.

This recording by Oehms is fine, but the sound overall, perhaps, a little more forward in the recording of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen than in the other selections. With the rest of the music, the piano and voice seem to blend more naturally. At times one could ask for more resonance to enhance the performances, but that is a minor quibble. Likewise, it would be useful for Oehms to publish the texts and translations of vocal music, and if space were needed, dispense with the thumbnail sketch of the composer, which does not offer much that cannot be found elsewhere. Nevertheless, the liner notes include some good information about the performers, especially Jarnot, who has recorded some other music for Oehms. As a relatively young performer, Jarnot offers some convincing interpretations that will, no doubt, be followed with other fine ones. This recording has much to offer, and those who know Mahler’s music should appreciate this fine addition to the discography of his Lieder.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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