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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1884) [18.00]
Frühe Lieder (1880-1890)
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
David Lutz (piano)
Fünf frühe Lieder (1880-1890), orchestrated Berio
Sechs frühe Lieder (1880-1890), orchestrated Berio
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Luciano Berio
Rec January 1992, St Augustine’s Church, London (songs with piano); October 1992, Casino Zögernitz, Vienna (songs with orchestra)
WARNER ELATUS 2564 61570 2 [67.39]


Mahler is one of the great song writers, and this collection of his earliest songs shows that he found his true gift at an early age. The Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, performed here in its voice-and-piano version rather than in Mahler’s better known orchestration, was composed at the beginning of the 1880s. Some of its material was used to great effect in the First Symphony, which was first heard in 1888. The songs have rightly established their own position at the front of the lieder repertory.

Mahler’s songs work well in either piano or orchestrated versions, but since he was such a marvelous orchestrator it is understandable that anyone knowing the more famous orchestral edition might prefer it to the piano accompaniment. Thomas Hampson and David Lutz put forward a strong case for the voice-and-piano version, however, with a sensitive approach to phrasing and nuance, and a suitably fresh melodic appeal. Likewise the various early songs, among Mahler’s least known compositions, are treated to sympathetic performances nicely captured in the warm acoustic of St Augustine’s in London.

In the light of all this it is the more interesting to have the second half of the programme made up of the same singer performing Luciano Berio’s orchestral arrangements of Mahler’s early songs. Clearly any composer undertaking such a task would only do so as a labour of love, and the validity of the exercise is enhanced by Berio’s taking the podium with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the recording sessions.

There are many felicities of scoring that serve Mahler’s cause well. It is surprising but true that so many of these songs, composed when Mahler was just turned twenty, should sound so distinctively to be the work of the mature composer, and in so many ways too. The biting attack, the melancholy dreaming, the deeply-felt emotion, can all be heard. Berio’s orchestral judgement never lets him down, while Hampson sounds just as much at home in the repertoire as he did in the better known Gesellen cycle.

With a nicely produced booklet, including full texts and translations, this reissued CD can be enthusiastically recommended.

Terry Barfoot

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