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Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
Complete Wunderhorn Songs
see end of review for track listing
Dietrich Henschel (baritone), Boris Berezovsky (piano)
rec. De Doelen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 25-26 May, 24 September 2012
Sung texts enclosed but no translations
EPR CLASSIC EPRC 013 [74:04]

Contrary to what Amazon says in an editorial note to this issue Mahler’s Wunderhorn songs are not rare to find in recitals and recordings. That said, to have all twenty-three collected on one CD with such a discriminating singer as Dietrich Henschel is truly great. Although they are not strictly speaking a song cycle there are things that knit them together: war and love for instance are recurrent themes. In toto Mahler set 24 Wunderhorn texts, though some of them were worked into his symphonies. Of these Das himmlichen Leben was never conceived as a song with piano accompaniment, and thus it was excluded from the present collection. Das himmlichen Leben is known to most Mahler lovers as the final movement of his fourth symphony.
 
We fairly often hear many, though far from all of them, in orchestral garb, but the piano parts Mahler wrote are highly expressive on their own. One could even argue that the colourful orchestral settings seem to reduce the impact of the song-lines.
 
Dietrich Henschel is one of the most important German-speaking Lied interpreters since another Dietrich, Fischer-Dieskau, left the arena. He possesses many of the older singer’s finest characteristics: a beautiful and expressive voice, intelligent treatment of the texts, an ability to colour the voice according to the requirements of the poems and a personality that catches the listener’s attention and keeps the interest. Every phrase, every accent has a direction and intention.
 
Most of these songs have been good old friends for several decades and they can be sung in many different ways. In fact, having been listening to Henschel throughout the 74+ minutes of this disc I have come to the conclusion that they can’t be better interpreted. Differently and qualitatively possibly just as good – but not better.
 
I won’t tire you with 2000 words of panegyrics, but at least I’ll pick some examples that show the differences between the songs and how well Mr Henschel differentiates them. Revelge, for instance, is the perfect opening, a rousing vitamin injection that brings the soldiers out in the field and causes the listener to sit up and inhale the morning air. What vitality, what rhythmic spring. Both singer and pianist are close to ecstasy. One sits there in a daze.
 
Rheinlegendchen on the contrary, is open-air folksong, inspired lightness. Dietrich Henschel finds the right natural quality - simple but not artless. Ich ging mit Lust, one of my old favourites, is so beautiful, sung with delicate nuances. In Scheiden und Meiden he is outgoing and intense but never goes over the top. Boris Berezovsky is one of the great piano virtuosos of our time and here he is not the discreet ‘Am I too loud?’ accompanist but the motor behind everything. He drives Dietrich Henschel before him and generates new energy. Listen for example to his playing in Verlor’ne Müh’ (tr. 10). Not for a second does one long for the orchestra. Berezovsky is an orchestra. Every song here stands out as a masterpiece and though they ideally should be divided between one male and one female singer, Henschel characterizes and catches the individuality of each of them, so we feel he is several interpreters.
 
If forced to pick one song as the most outstanding — some newspaper reviewers have to make this often impossible choice — I would cheat and say that the four last songs form an unbreakable unit. There’s the lovely Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?, the beautiful Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen, Lob des hohen Verstandes with the superbly swinging piano as an extra bonus, and the utterly moving Urlicht. This brings the cycle — I do accept the cyclic idea when presented so attractively — to an inward contemplative conclusion:
 
Oh red rose!
Man lies in deepest need,
Man lies in deepest pain.
Yes, rather would I be in heaven!
 
I came upon a broad pathway:
An angel came and wanted to send me away.
Ah no! I would not be sent away!
Ah no, I would not be sent away!
 
I am from God and will return to God.
The dear God, the dear God
Will give me a light,
Will light me to eternal blessed life!
(Translation by Deryck Cooke)
 
I only wish the excellent liner-notes by Stefan Grondelaers and Dietrich Henschel had not been printed in yellow against a dark-green background. The song texts are more legible in black print against golden background but it is a pity that flashy design seems to overrule information.
 
This is however my only grumble about this issue. Dietrich Henschel and Boris Berezovsky have guided us in masterly fashion towards the Mahlerian eternal life and we can only be grateful to have had the opportunity to wander in their company.
 
Göran Forsling
 
Track listing
1. Revelge [5:40]
2. Rheinlegendchen [2:36]
3. Starke Einbildungskraft [1:09]
4. Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald [3:32]
5. Scheiden und Meiden [2:13]
6. Der Schildwache Nachtlied [4:51]
7. Aus! Aus! [1:45]
8. Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz‘ [4:10]
9. Lied des Verfolgten im Turm [4:02]
10. Verlor’ne Müh‘ [2:22]
11. Selbstgefühl [1:34]
12. Trost im Unglück [2:29]
13. Der Tamboursg’sell [5:51]
14. Ablösung im Sommer [1:30]
15. Das irdische Leben [2:37]
16. Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt [3:30]
17. Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen [1:41]
18. Nicht wiedersehen! [4:33]
19. Es sungen drei Engel einen süssen Gesang [3:18]
20. Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? [2:03]
21. Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen [5:48]
22. Lob des hohen Verstandes [2:23]
23. Urlicht [4:19]