Das Lied Von Der Erde
Peter Schreier (Tenor), Birgit
Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester/Kurt Sanderling
Berlin Classics 0094022BC
A better start to this work could not be imagined. The opening of the first
song, Der Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde, is commanding with weight
of tone that pitches us into the hurly-burly. Peter Schreier handles both
the vigorous and the lyrical passages with equal flair. He may not have a
Heldentenor's power but he makes up for this in dramatic point and there
is never a moment when he hasn't something interesting to tell us. For example,
each repetition of the line "Dunkel ist das leben, ist der Tod" finds
a different tone from him each time, the second an especially dying fall:
a world of regret conveyed in one phrase. In the passage beginning "Das
firmament blaut ewig" I like the special treatment Sanderling gives to
the trumpets, representative of his care for instrumental detail and an example
of the support he gives Schreier. But the greatest test is the vision of
the ape on the graves in the moonlight. This is wonderfully dramatised without
tumbling into melodrama. Notice too how Schreier spits out the words
"wild-gespenstische Gestalt" for immediacy you can almost touch.
The contrast between the extremes of expression of the first song and the
static, Autumnal feel of the second, "Der Einsame im Herbst", is superbly
achieved by Sanderling with an opening on strings and oboe that manages to
be glacial yet invested with deep meaning. The colours of autumn continue
to be painted as the music progresses. Birgit Finnila's entrance is ripe
and confident and whilst you can't say she's Schreier's equal she acquits
herself well. Sanderling keeps up the tempo and manages to make this quite
a passionate performance without seeming to mould very much. There is pent-up
passion held back here too. Finnila has a lighter voice than many we are
used to but I found her most refreshing. Her grasp of the words is impressive
too and she responds perfectly to the restless accompaniment of the one passage
of real warmth and feeling in the song at "Sonne der liebe willst du nie
But Schreier is the jewel of this recording. His delivery of every word and
phrase in the third song, "Von Der Jugend", is a joy as too is
Sanderling's accompaniment. The lightening of tone after the previous two
movements is remarkable, but even then conductor and soloist notice the
penultimate stanza does have more of a reflective feel. Schreier may not
be to everybody's taste but I love the slightly ironic stance he takes too.
There is cynicism behind his voice giving even the lyrical sections an edge.
He seems to want to convey the idea that, though he is the participant in
what he describes, he nevertheless retains his independence of mind and spirit.
Like an actor's view of a great part he is playing on the stage. In the fifth
song, "Der Trunkene im Fruhling", notice the wonder invested into
"mir ist als wie im Traum" and in "Der lenz ist da" the slight
slowing down to wonderful effect. You also know he is listening to the birds
in this song and what a tuneful piccolo the orchestra supplies. At "Ich
fulle mir den Becher neu" there is a final change of timbre to tell you
the singer is hitting the bottle again and he even sounds drunk in the last
stanza with the final words barked out.
Finnila copes better than many with Mahler's impossible demands during the
episode in the fourth song describing young men on horseback. Then she manages
an epilogue with all the time and space it needs where, as so often, Sanderling
is like a rock for her. However, the big test for her is the last song, "Der
Abschied", the centrepiece of the whole work. Finnila darkens her tone
for the opening and Sanderling supports by making sure everything can be
heard in the orchestra. Remember the orchestration for this work is one of
the many remarkable aspects of it and the recorded sound presents a rich
canvas with air around the instruments and a nice bloom. There is also in
Sanderling's gently pressing tempo a forward motion and great yearning. The
ripe playing in the passage about the moon floating like a silver ship on
the sea of the heavens is made to float up and down with Finnila's singing
illustrating the words, then the orchestral interlude is given great lyrical
portent by Sanderling as well as a modernist feel. Then note the low tam-tam
at Finnila's description of the stranger dismounting. The line "Du mein
freund, mir war auf dieser Welt das Gluck nicht hold!" is one of the
central statements of this work and Finnila's delivery is remarkable for
the balance of her voice against the orchestra where all details can be heard
clearly, woodwinds especially. Finnila and Sanderling see the end of the
work as a scene of joy and repose, regret for the loss of earthly senses.
Not despair, which some commentaries on this work might imply.
The whole approach to the final song accords with so much of what Sanderling
seems to be aiming for in the whole work. Let the music speak, the soloists
deliver expressive points and concentrate on detail, tone and singing line.
Maybe the heart is not wrung, as it is in some versions, but this is as valid
a view as any that you will hear. I also admire the recording balance that
places the singers a little further back than is sometimes the case so the
orchestra becomes another soloist.
This is one of the finest recordings of this inexhaustible work. No Mahlerite
should be without it.
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