Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Lieder aus der Jugendzeit (Wunderhorn)(1887-90)
Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen [1:46]
Nicht wiedersehen [4:17]
Starke Einbildungskraft [0:57]
Ich ging mit Lust [4:09]
Aus! Aus! [2:06]
Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz [4:02]
Ablösung im Sommer [1:28]
Selbstgefühl [1:47]
Scheiden und Meiden [2:11]
Rückert-Lieder (1901-2)
Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft [2:12]
Liebst du um Schönheit [1:55]
Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder [1:11]
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen [6:26]
Um Mitternacht [5:09]
Das Lied von der Erde
Der Abschied (1908-9) [29:03]
Bo Skovhus (baritone)
Stefan Vladar (piano)
rec. no details provided
You take the time and go to the expense and trouble - and risk in these straitened times - of recording a Mahler recital by one of the foremost Lieder recitalists of the day. You include songs from Mahler’s youth which are rarely recorded. You then you issue the disc complete with a 24 page booklet which includes an essay and biographies in two languages. For some reason you provide neither texts, the composer’s dates nor the total timing for the complete programme. Nor is there even the usual invitation to download texts from the website.
Leaving aside these irritations, this is a recital which I would place in the ambiguous category of “interesting”. Bo Skovhus is an experienced practitioner of the art of Lieder recital and is renowned for taking risks with his interpretations. He has plenty of voice when he so chooses, even if a certain throatiness is creeping in these days, so I wonder why he made what was clearly a conscious decision to be recorded so closely that he could frequently indulge in near crooning and sing nearly all the notes above E in falsetto. When all three top Fs in “Liebst du um Schönheit” have been executed the same way in falsetto within a song that lasts less than two minutes, the trick takes on the appearance of a mannerism. When Skovhus actually uses full-voiced lower register for the top G, swelled in a messa di voce at the climax of “Der Abschied” it comes almost as a surprise - not to mention a relief. All that whispering does indeed create an atmosphere of intimacy and concentration but it also exacerbates the rather plaintive and unvaried quality of his baritone which can wear thin over a recital of - how many minutes? I don’t know; as I said you have to add it up yourself.
The close miking also means that any minor imperfections, bobbles in tone or slight lack of steadiness - a flaw inevitably inherent in singing so softly so much of the time - are magnified. He has a habit, too, of introducing little expressive bulges into the line which can become wearisome as they occur at the expense of a true legato.
“Um Mitternacht” is understandably the song in which he most loosens up to do justice to the drama of the text and music; he again sounds the top Fs and Gs in truer lower register and provides the kind of rousing intensity which the recital as a whole lacks. On the other hand, in an attempt to provide tension, he delivers “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder” at such a lick that it loses its charm and pathos; most artists take half as long again to avoid gabbling it.
Despite the voice being so forward, we are happily able to hear every nuance of Stefan Vladar’s pianism; it is a real tour de force: rich in tone, subtle in dynamics and wonderfully vivid in the way he suggests the tolling bells in “Um Mitternacht”. The long instrumental section, too, at the heart of “Der Abschied”, is played in masterly fashion. He must be the finest accompanist on the circuit today.
The programme itself is carefully and aptly devised: we move chronologically from the Romantic milieu of nature, soldiers, lovers parting and the like depicted in the Wunderhorn songs, through the introspective Angst of the “Rückert-Lieder” to the metaphysical transcendence of “Der Abschied”. Thus the songs span more than twenty years of Mahler’s output. It is absorbing trying to pick up and place melodic themes and snippets which have been incorporated into the earlier symphonies; thus in “Nicht wiedersehen”, despite not having any texts, a listener with a bit of German will recognise “Ei du, mein alleherzliebster Schatz” as providing the tune in the middle section of the third movement of the First Symphony which is marked “Sehr einfach und schlicht, wie eine Volksweise” - “very plain and simple, like a folk song”.
Those early “Wunderhorn” songs are mostly new to me and I welcome the chance to hear them interpreted by so experienced a singer despite my reservations about a certain gruffness in his voice and some distracting mannerisms. This is not a recital which is going to belong to my list of favourites.  

Ralph Moore
An experienced singer with a certain gruffness and some distracting mannerisms. 

Masterwork Index: Rückert-Lieder