> Gustav Mahler - Songs of a Wayfarer [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1885)
Kindertotenlieder (1904)
Rückert-Lieder (1901)

Andreas Schmidt (baritone)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Jesús López-Cobos
Recorded in Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 30th-May 1st 1991
TELARC CD 80269 [55:58]


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Mahler’s songs are all related to his symphonies, some more closely than others. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (‘Songs of a Wayfarer’) share actual thematic material with parts of the First Symphony, while Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen from the five Rückert-Lieder finds its emotional counterpart in the Adagio of the Fifth. Kindertotenlieder – ‘Songs on the Death of Children’ – are probably the hardest to place in this way; to express their incredibly harrowing and intimate exploration of loss, Mahler virtually invented a new musical language, as well as a new style of orchestration, as delicate and transparent as chamber music.

The three cycles brought together on this Telarc disc have been recorded by some of the finest singers of the last fifty years – Fischer-Dieskau and Baker being the ones that spring most immediately to mind. So it’s very hard for any artist recording them now to lay the ghosts of voices past, especially as Andreas Schmidt’s voice has so much in common with the great F-D. In his mid-baritone register (roughly around the top of the bass clef) his voice is a ‘dead ringer’ for Fischer-Dieskau’s, having just the same creamy beauty. This almost uncanny resemblance is most noticeable of all at the very beginning of the first song on the disc, ‘Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht’ (‘When my love is wed’), but as Schmidt moves into different areas of the voice, and different modes of expression, his individuality asserts itself.

He gives a most moving account of Kindertotenlieder. The feelings expressed can make these songs well nigh unbearable; Schmidt avoids that by underplaying the emotions, maintaining a certain restraint, making it all the more devastating when the full tragedy burst through at critical moments. He expresses perfectly the inconsolable loneliness of the final couplet of the first song – beginning ‘a small lamp expired in my tent’ – and manages to emphasise the irony of the following line, ‘Welcome to the joyful light of the world’. Similarly, in the second song, he rises superbly to the challenge of the ending, with a truly beautiful high E for ‘Sterne’ (‘stars’).

In the most famous of the Rückert-Lieder, the song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, Schmidt managed (temporarily) to banish Janet Baker’s mesmerising performance from my mind. In the lower part of his voice, he has a pleasing and unforced ‘cello-like quality, which suits the rapt intimacy of this great song ideally. In the final song, Um Mitternacht (best translated, with apologies to Thelonoius Monk, as ‘Round Midnight’ [comment received from Martin Walker - Sorry, but "um" with time indication means "at" in German; "round midnight" would be "gegen Mitternacht" or "so um Mitternacht herum". ]) he has to sing with maximum power to match the brass choir, and it is in this mode that his voice sometimes acquires a brittle edge to it which will not be to all tastes.

Throughout, López-Cobos and the Cincinatti accompany most sensitively, and there is much lovely playing, particularly from the woodwind (despite one sour cor anglais entry in Um Mitternacht). And the recording is quite outstanding; listen to the way it picks up the tam-tam strokes in track 3 (2:38), or the ‘soft ‘cello pizzicato that sets the ‘Lindenbaum’section of the final ‘Wayfarer’ song in motion (track 3, 2:54).

This then is a very strong contender if you wish to have all three of these great cycles together on one disc. The booklet notes and translations by Nick Jones are excellent, though why the back cover of both booklet and case give one title in English, one in German and one in German with inverted commas is beyond my understanding! Life is full of mysteries; never mind – this is still a great CD.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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