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08 Feb 2012
Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Recorded on 14 June 1964 at the Großer Saal of the Musikverein, Vienna, as part of the Wiener Festwochen, this legendary performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde was released in 2011 on Deutsche Grammophon.
Wunderlich is not unknown with this piece, since the Mahler discography includes a masterful studio recording of Das Lied with Christa Ludwig, alto, and Ottol Klemperer, conductor (an EMI recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra). While that EMI release offers the customary version of Das Lied with tenor and also, the Krips recording presents the work in the other scoring Mahler sanctioned, the one for baritone and tenor. While convention tends to favor the tenor and alto pairing, the tenor and baritone version is also effective, especially when it involves such talented performers as Wunderlich and Fischer-Dieskau, who were particularly moving in this 1964 recording.
As the culmination of Das Lied, the final song, “Der Abschied,” requires attention to the details of line and orchestration in conveying the symphonic expression of orchestral song. In this recording Fischer-Dieskau offers a moving performance, which is sensitive to the poetic and musical line. Dynamic levels and timbre are impressive in this recording, which gives a sense of leave-taking, but not resignation. The final section of “Der Abschied” merits attention for the manner in which the baritone resolves the dramatic climax of the music line in the iterations of the work “ewig” (“forever”) with which the piece concludes. While Fischer-Dieskau’s later recordings of Das Lied with Murray Dicke (conducted by Paul Kletzki) and with James King (conducted by Leonard Bernstein) have been available for years, this performance by Krips preserves the Fischer-Dieskau at an earlier point in his career. The orchestral playing is laudable in an interpretation that suggests accompanied song, without the emphasis on symphonic elements which emerges in other performances.
In addition, the close miking in “Der Einsame im Herbst” gives a sense of the precision Fischer-Dieskau brought to the concert, with well-articulated consonants, extended vowels, where necessary, and elegant phrasing. While the recording contains some stage or audience sounds, they never detract from the overall impression of this moving performance. In “Von der Schönheit” Fischer-Dieskau evinces the delicacy the piece requires, especially when the scoring involves the lower timbre of a baritone. In this song, Krips offers nice contrast in the middle section, with the fast tempo never challenging Fischer-Dieskau’s ability to enunciate the text precisely, with the accompaniment valiantly matching the vocalizing.
In the tenor songs, Wunderlich is as impressive as he is on the studio recording. The opening song “Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde” is a tour de force. The urgent tempo with which Krips starts the piece affords Wunderlich the chance to demonstrate his facility with the musical line and the exquisite diction in rendering the text. Based on a radio broadcast, the sound is clear, but sometimes dry and less textured than found in later, stereo recordings. It is nevertheless possible apprehend Krips’ command of the orchestra, and his persuasive interpretation of the score. In “Von der Jugend,” Wunderlich is also impressive, with his phrasing of the text fitting well into Mahler’s musical line. Here the timbre is evidence of Wunderlich’s command of this piece, as he meets the demands of the song consummately. The third of Wunderlich’s pieces, “Der Trunkene im Frühling” complements the other two performances, with the interpretation giving a sense of the song without some of the overstatement which some performers bring to the sense of inebriation implicit in the text.
This release makes a famous performance of Das Lied from 1964 available in a modern release. As part of the Wiener Festwochen, the recording is evidence of the presence of Mahler’s music around the time that the general public rediscovered Mahler’s music. The solid interpretation Krips brought to the score shows the conductor’s solid grasp of the score and his solid sense of Mahler’s style. Mahlerians should appreciate this release for the contribution it offers to the composer's discography.