Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Das Lied von der Erde (new version: Hansjörg Albrecht) (1908)
Sibylla Rubens (soprano); Renée Morloc (alto); Markus Schäfer (tenor);
Markus Eiche (baritone)
Münchener Bach-Orchester/Hansjörg Albrecht
rec. 14-15, 17-19 January 2011, Himmelfahrtskirche München-Sending
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 792 [62:15]
Gustav Mahler’s late song-cycle, Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song
of the Earth"), was originally a large-scale work for two vocal soloists and
orchestra. It sets ancient Chinese poetry translated into German by Hans Bethge.
This collection of poems from Die Chinesische Flöte (“The
Chinese Flute”) (1907) is full of beauty and transcendence reflecting
Mahler’s obsessions with mortality, youth, and beauty.
Mahler’s version of the work was scored for a large orchestra - though
modest by Mahlerian standards - and most frequently performed with soprano and
tenor soloists. Mahler also indicated that a baritone could be used instead
of the alto - a less successful arrangement. Having a large orchestra compete
with vocal soloists resulted in Arnold Schoenberg’s arrangement for chamber
ensemble. Many passages in Schoenberg’s chamber version sound somewhat
clinical and thin resulting more in a counter-statement to Mahler’s version
rather than a reduction. It also removes some of the most distinctive aspects
of Mahler’s version - the celesta in Der Abschied for example.
The present disc is the first recording of a new arrangement by Hansjörg
Albrecht and marks the centenary of the work’s premiere. It falls between
the original and the reduced Schoenberg/Riehn arrangement. The Riehn in question
was Rainer Riehn who finished Schoenberg’s incomplete reduction (for 16
players) in 1938. The reduced orchestra, here somewhat expanded to a complement
of twenty-four, fits the music word-painting well since it retains the most
prominent aspects of Mahler’s original.
Albrecht’s version presented here stays true in essence to the intentions
of Mahler with some adjustments in the soloists: with four voices singing: soprano,
alto, tenor and baritone.
One of the problems with a disc that presents a new version of a great work
is that the original has been performed and recorded beautifully for generations.
How does it compare not only in the execution of the arrangement but in performance
with Bruno Walter, Leonard Bernstein or Otto Klemperer? It may not be fair to
compare the arrangements to great performances of the original but such comparisons
This leaner adaptation starts off promisingly with Das Trinklied vom Jammer
der Erde (“The Drinking Song of Earth’s Misery”) sung
by the tenor. The smaller orchestra does feel true to the creator’s ideas
without requiring the tenor to sing at the top of his voice against the full
orchestra. The voice sits better against the reduced orchestra; the orchestral
lines are smoother and breathe better. The result is a more comfortable, less
riveting approach to a song that mixes exhilaration with sadness. What we lose
with this comfortable approach is the sense of singing to the hills and the
The second song, Der Einsame im Herbst (“The lonely one in Autumn”)
is a contrasting movement that is much softer and full of beauty and lamentation.
It works nicely in the reduced form because the orchestration is already chamber-like
with long independent lines.
The third song, Von der Jugend (“Of Youth”) is here performed
by soprano rather than tenor. The chamber arrangement works fine here as the
music is light and amiable. It is somewhat difficult to hear the difference
with Mahler’s original other than the size of the string section.
The fourth song, Von der Schönheit (“Of Beauty”) is
a generally delicate care-laden song sung effectively by the alto. The loud
central section provides contrast. The movement ends with a long wind down from
The fifth song, Der Trunkene im Frühling (“The drunken man
in Spring”) is sung by tenor. Mahler shifts tempo frequently keeping an
off-balance feel to the music.
Der Abschied (“The Farewell”) isthe final movement
and is by far the longest, nearly as long as all the others combined. This is
traditionally sung by alto, but here by baritone. It is in three sections, the
brooding opening, a central orchestral climax and a slumbering farewell. Though
there are some nice touches in Albrecht’s arrangement - such as the delicate
and solo woodwind interplay at 8:15 - the performance is not strong enough.
The central build is reserved, constantly feeling limited and the climax is
prominently out of tune. The enduring sensation is one of a letdown. It just
doesn’t compare to the great recordings of the past. One nice effect is
the slightly audible harmonium at the mystical conclusion of the movement as
the baritone intones “Ewig … ewig …”. That does impart
a feeling of passing into the eternal. It’s good that the celesta is retained
in this reduction.
Despite the best of intentions, this recording’s vocalists and ensemble
are outmatched by the great performances of the past. The somewhat recessed
and mundane recorded sound doesn’t help.
The German and English liner notes are detailed, explaining the reasoning for
the new arrangement though the full vocal text is in German only. This recording
is probably best for the curious who wonder what a mixture between Mahler’s
original and Schoenberg/Riehn reduction would sound like. Otherwise, I’d
recommend the towering versions by Walter, Bernstein, or Klemperer.
Probably best for the curious who wonder what a mixture between the original
and the reduction would sound like.