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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) 
Kindertotenlieder (1901-04) [29.15]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 (1888/89) [30.11]
Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo-soprano)
Münchner Philharmoniker/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. live, 17 February 1979 (Strauss), 30 June 1983 (Mahler); Herkulessaal, Munich

Brigitte Fassbaender has long been one of my favourite Lieder singers and she is in magisterial, peak-form voice here, relishing Celibidache’s leisurely tempi and extracting every ounce of emotion from these sombre, melancholy songs. When she plunges into her lower register or gives her voice full rein, the effect is captivating. Her famously crisp enunciation enhances the brooding melancholy of the texts and her vibrato, occasionally wayward elsewhere, is here well under control. At these reflective speeds, the stark, sparse, transparency of the orchestration is even more apparent, and the analogue recording is full, rich and immediate, the voice recorded closely but orchestral details, such as the oboe solo in “Wenn dein Mütterlein”, still emerging clearly.

Celibidache’s speeds are similarly leisurely in the Strauss tone poem. Only Sinopoli, then Karajan, Nagano and Previn begin to approach him in expansiveness, whereas old-timers like Knappertsbusch, Szell and Horenstein blaze through the piece in twenty-one or two minutes, and even Jansons, in his recent, superb recording on the same label, takes only 24 minutes – but Celi’s grasp over structure is such that the tension never slackens over thirty minutes. He generates a dreamy but intense mood which is especially apparent during the two-minute passage from around 21 minutes into the piece onward. The sound is big, brash and slightly diffuse, with more audible tape hiss than in the Mahler, but very exciting, reflecting the renowned acoustic of the Herkulessaal. The slow introduction before the orchestral explosion beginning at 6’27” with a drum-thwack is magnificently dark and brooding, the brass chorale beginning at 15’majestic and the finale overwhelming. I am captivated every time I listen to it; as is invariably the case with Celibidache, this is an unconventional reading but one to stand alongside the best, while the Mahler song cycle now assumes its place as my preferred version.

Ralph Moore



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