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CD: Crotchet

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Das Lied von der Erde (1909)
Waltraud Meier (mezzo); Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. live, Orchestra Hall, Chicago, April/May 1991
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 68974-7 [60:20]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a budget (re)release in Erato’s Maestro series. If it has been picked based on the merits of conductor Daniel Barenboim, then it is a poor choice indeed as he creates the biggest problems in a broadly unsatisfying account of this great work. The main issue is that Barenboim is in too much of a hurry. The opening movement careers off, leaving Siegfried Jerusalem struggling to keep up almost from the off. Barenboim’s aggressive attack could be defended in this movement, but it becomes a serious flaw in the gentler alto songs. The second movement lacks the wistful listlessness that the poem evokes, and the great finale lacks the room to expand and bloom until the very closing pages when the broadening out comes almost too late. These wayward tempi have an unavoidable impact on the soloists. Siegfried Jerusalem, normally so dependable, seem to feel ill at ease in his first two songs, sounding strained and uncomfortable in the opening movement, something exacerbated by the tearaway pace.

The playfulness of Von der Jugend is lost too, though he appears more comfortable by the time he gets to the frolics of the Drunkard in Spring. Equally, Waltraud Meier, one of the most communicative of singers on the operatic stage, is detached and steely here at precisely the moments where most emotional involvement is required. In Der Einsame in Herbst, for example, she sings as though she were watching the lonely man rather than inhabiting him and that layer of distance becomes a serious distraction in the great finale. This Farewell ticks all the right boxes and plays all the right notes, but it is like looking at a museum object through a glass case when Mahler demands that we tear open our hearts and share his vision of the ever-blue eternity. All is not entirely lost: Barenboim does manage the stiller central section of the first movement well, and the closing pages with the many ewigs fading into the distance are very moving. These moments on their own just won’t do, however. Fundamentally this interpretation doesn’t get to the heart of what Mahler wants: instead we end up seeing it only from a safe distance, something that would have appalled this most emotional of composers.

Simon Thompson



























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