Originally recorded in 1990 and released on
Warner Classics, this reissue on Warner Apex makes available Mahler’s
version of the symphonic song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde
in the composer’s edition with piano. A case has been made for
this to be performed in this version, and the differences are
apparent in this performance in which the pianistic elements are
played effectively by Cyprien Katsaris. Katsaris’s style does
not suggest a pianist attempting to capture the full orchestra
on piano, but rather an idiomatic performer accompanying in a
late-Romantic song-cycle. The dynamics are present and appropriate
for the singers; the more complicated passages are rendered clearly,
and nowhere are there tricks to suggest orchestral touches. All
in all, Katsaris gives a reading faithful to Mahler’s piano score.
While some of the orchestral touches that suggest musical orientalism,
as in the adept scoring of pentatonic phrases in the middle section
of “Von der Schönheit”, are less prominent in the piano version,
recollections of the conventional scoring soon fade in this compelling
The soloists are commendable in this demanding score, which is all the more exposed because of the use of a piano in lieu of full orchestra. As found in this performance, the voices have more weight and prominence. While they do not have to compete, as it were, with the amplitude of the orchestra, they also do not have the opportunity to fade into it. The vocality of Das Lied
emerges more readily in this version and requires the soloists to be as sensitive to sustained pitches, phrase beginnings and endings, and articulations. Both soloists meet the challenges of the score well, with some admirable work by Thomas Moser, particularly in “Der Trinker im Frühling”, which is nicely secure. The music fits his voice well. While some of his sustained pitches sometimes show strain, it is not something that would be a reason not to enjoy his performance. His opening to a “Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” makes for a fine launch to the cycle.
Brigitte Fassbaender’s “Der Abschied” is outstanding, and transcends the differences between the full score and the piano version. This rich, well-articulated interpretation is impressive for its facile execution and deep expression. As to the latter, Fassbaender achieves it without overacting or excesses of any kind. Her final iterations of “ewig” have an ecstatic quality that fits well into her approach generally. She does not allow the idea of farewell, so evident in a piece entitled “Der Abschied” to overbalance the sense that she brings to each strophe of the text. She treats her other movements with equal finesse, and the more extroverted “Am Ufer” (“Von der Schönheit” in the full score) is particularly effective. The piano score makes use of the title “Der Pavillon aus Porzellan” instead of its more familiar appellation “Von der Jugend”.
As to authenticity, the version is entirely Mahler’s, and the option of performing Das Lied
in this manner is a matter left to the performers. The performance tradition reaches to 1912, when Mahler’s protégé Bruno Walter conducted the premiere of the orchestral version. Only in the late 1980s did this version with piano accompaniment become available in the edition prepared by Stephen Hefling. In recent years the performing tradition of Das Lied
has been enhanced with versions for chamber orchestra and various lower voices to complement the tenor; the conventional use of the mezzo or alto sometimes shifts to baritone, so that two men sing the piece. Yet this version with piano accompaniment, along with tenor and mezzo works well, particularly with the adept accompaniment offered by Cyprien Katsaris. This is a worthwhile recording of the song-cycle that stands as the culmination of Mahler’s contributions to the genre.
James L. Zychowicz