The Legacy of Mahler
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
From Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit:
Ablösung im Sommer (1887/90) [1:48]
Frühlingsmorgen [2:00]
Erinnerung [2:59]
Hans und Grete [2:26]
Serenade [1:48]
Phantasie [2:30]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Sehnsucht I [1:14]
Er klagt, daß der Frühling so kurz blüht [1:04]
Regen [1:30]
Schließe mir die Augen beide (1907) [1:04]
Schließe mir die Augen beide (1925) [1:39]
Schlafen, schlafen [2:56]
Leukon [1:18]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
from: Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs):
Galatea [3:17]
Einfältiges Lied [2:34]
Der genügsame Liebhaber [2:47]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Two Fables, Op. 4:
The Dragonfly and the Ant [2:41]
The Ass and the Nightingale [4:47]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1973)
A Charm of Lullabies:
A Cradle Song [2:25]
The Highland Balou [2:00]
Sephestia's Lullaby [2:01]
A Charm [1:45]
The Nurse's Song [3:55]
Virpi Räisänen (mezzo); Marita Viitasalo (piano)
rec. 31 October; 1, 3 November 2011, Järvenpää Hall, Järvenpää, Finland
Full texts with English translation included
ONDINE ODE 1208-2 [53:15]

This Finnish duo present a fascinating and well chosen collection of twentieth-century lieder/songs.

The disc commences with six Mahler songs taken from his Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit - a collection of fourteen songs for voice and piano. Five of these form part of the first volume written early in his career in 1880/81. Mahler uses texts from Richard Leander, Tirso de Molina including his own for Hans und Grete (Hans and Grethe). The remaining song Ablösung im Sommer (Change in summer) is from his third volume written in 1888/89 taken from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy's Magic Horn) collection of Old German songs. Berg wrote a considerable number of songs most of which were unpublished during his lifetime. Berg is here represented by seven songs. Four are from Jugendlieder (Songs of youth) - settings of verse from various writers composed around 1902/05. Berg actually set the poem Schließe mir die Augen beide (Close, o close my eyes at parting) by German writer Theodor Storm twice; first in 1907 and also in 1925. The remaining song Schlafen, schlafen (Sleep, sleep) is from the set of 4 Lieder (4 Songs), Op.2 (1908/09, rev.1920). Schoenberg’s Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs) is a set of eight songs composed in 1901 for the Überbretti Cabaret at the Buntes Theater, Berlin. Written in an uncomplicated language Schoenberg in the Brettl-Lieder uses a wealth of humour and innuendo. Here Virpi Räisänen has selected three songs. The teenage Shostakovich wrote his Two Fables in 1922. Author Ivan Krylov wrote the fables in the manner of the delightful animal stories of Aesop. The final works are from Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies. These demonstrate a broader scope than some of his song cycles intended for Peter Pears. The Charm was written for and dedicated to the mezzo-soprano Nancy Evans who had doubled with Kathleen Ferrier in the title role of the first production of Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia.

It was fascinating to hear this debut recital disc from Virpi Räisänen. She performs with great enthusiasm and assurance. Räisänen is a mezzo who clearly has the ability to sing in a higher range. I admired the emotion she brings to bear in her mid-to-lower register. This is heard to fine effect in Mahler’s mellifluous Phantasie (Fantasy) with its emotional ending and Berg’s poignant Schlafen, schlafen (Sleep, sleep) sung softly with tenderness and fine control. I also admire Räisänen’s beautiful word painting in Berg’s Regen (Rain). On the downside Räisänen does tend to shoot up abruptly to the highest notes displaying an extremely bright tone that I found unpleasantly shrill. This extremely piercing effect is certainly not helped by what I can best describe as a clear, well-balanced but rather metallic acoustic. Viitasalo does sterling work throughout and deserves praise. Räisänen is very talented and I would like to hear her record in an acoustic more flattering to her voice.

I am unable to make recommendations for the songs recorded here by Berg, Schoenberg, Shostakovich and Britten. However for those looking for single discs of Mahler Lieder with piano accompaniment there are better alternatives. I can recommend the following: firstly the disc titled Urlicht consisting of all fourteen Mahler Lieder sung by Dutch mezzo Christianne Stotijn with pianist Julius Drake. Stotijn’s is enthralling and often moving. She was recorded at the Menuhin Hall, Stoke D'Abernon, England in 2006 on Onxy 4014. Secondly, there’s the debut recital from Austrian mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager who sings with impressive character. She is accompanied by Helmut Deutsch. Recorded in 1996 at the Esterhazy Palace in Austria Kirchschlager has recorded all of Mahler’s fourteen Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit together with another fifteen songs from Korngold and Alma Mahler on Sony SK 68344.

Michael Cookson

Räisänen is very talented and I would like to hear her in an acoustic more flattering to her voice.