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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Rückert-Lieder (text: Friedrich Rückert) [18:33]
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (text: Gustav Mahler) [16:45]
Kindertotenlieder (text: Friedrich Rückert) [23:41]
Gerhild Romberger (mezzo-soprano)
Alfredo Perl (piano)
rec. March 2016, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Reviewed as stereo CD
MDG 903 1972-6 SACD [58:00]

There is no dearth of recordings of Mahler songs, and these three cycles constitute a logical coupling but this disc is still a bit uncommon insofar as all three are recorded with piano. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen is quite often performed with piano and to a lesser extent the Rückert songs as well, but Kindertotenlieder were conceived from the beginning as an orchestral cycle. Both Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Thomas Hampson have however done them with piano and then there are versions for small orchestra, inspired by Schönberg’s alternative version of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.

Gerhild Romberger is no newcomer to Mahler. A couple of years ago she recorded Das Lied von der Erde together with tenor Stephan Rügamer and a chamber orchestra conducted by Alfredo Perl (the pianist on the present recording). That was the version for chamber ensemble by Schönberg and it was awarded the Echo Klassik 2015 as the best chamber music recording. The first of the Rückert songs, Liebst du um Schönheit, reveals a beautiful voice who produces lovely pianissimo high notes, and she sings with feeling and nuances well. Sometimes she is not ideally steady and there is sometimes a slightly rasping sound that may be indigenous but it may also be the CD Stereo recording. Some voices are not naturally compatible with the microphones. The piano sound isn’t ideal either, there is too much echo around it. Things may be different on the SACD layers. The playing per se cannot be faulted. Alfredo Perl is an experienced pianist and he has had rave reviews for his playing of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas, both in numerous live performances and in recordings for Oehms. The Rückert songs are primarily contemplative and restrained but the dramatic Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer from Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen offers ample opportunities for powerful pianism and even more the opening of the last of the Kindertotenlieder: In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus.

Going back to Gerhild Romberger she makes a lot of the bleak, sinister Um Mitternacht, colouring her voice admirably. My favourite among the five has long been Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen and it is sung with deep insight and sensitiveness but I have an uneasy feeling that she can’t quite keep the tension alive. I first thought that her tempo was too slow, but checking a dozen or so other recordings it turned out that Ms Romberger at 6:12 is among the fastest, while established favourites like Janet Baker and Christa Ludwig take about half a minute longer without slackening in tension. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen is sensitively interpreted with an intensely dramatic Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer and some fine pianissimo singing in between. Kindertotenlieder is probably the most trying of all the song cycles, and here Gerhild Romberger is superb. She is not always vocally perfect but her involvement is tangible and her tone has a strong feeling of vulnerability. The penultimate song, Oft denk’ ich sie sind nur ausgegangen, momentarily disperses the grief and brings comfort, but reality is soon back and In diesem Wetter everything is black, black, black. To my mind no one has ever peered deeper in this cycle than Brigitte Fassbaender, but Gerhild Romberger’s reading is also deeply moving and in its own right this is a very satisfying Mahler disc.

Everything is not perfect but the feelings are genuine and that is worth a great deal.

Göran Forsling



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