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Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
Rückert-Lieder [17:43]
Kindertotenlieder [22:05]
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen [15:32]
Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano)
Nils Anders Mortensen (piano)
rec. Sofienberg Church, Oslo, 2016
Sung texts with Norwegian and English translations enclosed
LAWO LWC1157 [55:29]

Marianne Beate Kielland’s discography has grown rapidly since I first reviewed a collection of Bach cantatas a dozen years ago. Recitals with Grieg, Elling, Schumann and Mozart have come my way for review, the latter was one of my Recordings of the Year 2017 (review). Thus it was only a matter of time before she would tackle one of the real summits in the song repertoire, Gustav Mahler’s three song cycles. They have been recorded innumerable times and it seems that they invariably inspires the singers to surpass themselves, both in pure vocalism and interpretation of the texts. The Mozart recital mentioned above was titled “Whispering Mozart” since Ms Kielland and her sensitive accompanist Nils Anders Mortensen had opted for uncommonly intimate readings of the songs, as though they were performed before a small group of listeners gathered in someone’s living room. There is something of the same approach here. All three cycles are most often heard with orchestral accompaniment and the Rückert songs and Kindertotenlieder (also to Rückert texts) were conceived that way. The presence of an orchestra almost by definition excludes close intimacy. Certain singers still manage to communicate closeness when allied with a sensitive conductor. The best example is Janet Baker and John Barbirolli in the famous recordings from the 1960s. Through shunning the orchestra Marianne Beate Kielland can scale down to the same whispering intimacy as on the Mozart album at the expense of the orchestral colours. The piano, exquisitely played by Nils Anders Mortensen, provides something similar to a black-and-white photograph or etching, which still has marvellous nuances.

That is immediately noticeable in the five Rückert songs. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft! is careful, delicate, restrained, light; Liebst du um Schönheit restrained and extremely inward with exquisite nuances, superbly adjusted to the sparse accompaniment; in Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder the sound is fuller but the lightness is retained, as is the sense of folk song; Ich bin der Welt – my personal favourite among the Mahler songs – is utterly sensitive and in the last stanza the line “und ruh’ in einem stillen Gebiet” is so soft and dreamy, lingering …. Um Mitternacht is a grander song and the manner of her reading is grander with glowing tone, absolutely steady and sooo beautiful.

Kindertotenlieder, the darkest of song cycles, is permeated by inwardness and pensiveness. The piano accompaniment makes the songs more transparent than the orchestral version. Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen is particularly touching in Marianne Beate Kielland’s reading. The concluding song In diesem Wetter is the dramatic outbreak that literally cries out for the orchestral background but the piano here thunders convincingly in the opening and the reading as a whole is quite overwhelming. I still, when writing this, feel the shivers it provoked. At the same time the simple beauty of the final stanzas is like balm for the soul. The ultimate reading of Kindertotenlieder for me is Brigitte Fassbaender’s whom I heard in the Royal Castle in Stockholm many years ago. She sang the whole cycle with closed eyes and with an intensity that was almost unbearable. That was of course the orchestral version, but Marianne Beate Kielland comes very close to Fassbaender in her more small-scale reading.

The same commitment and insight is also apparent in Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, which was originally conceived for voice and piano and several years later was scored for orchestral forces. That version was first performed in 1896 and there seems to be no documentation that the voice-and-piano version was ever performed before that. There is again a captivating simplicity about Ms Kielland’s readings also here, a simplicity that doesn’t exclude depth. The opening of Ging heut’ Morgen has a kind of jubilant rusticity that reminds the listener that the songs were inspired by Des Knaben Wunderhorn, even though the words are Mahler’s own. Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer is swift and rhythmically intense in the opening, but the second stanza, Wenn ich in den Himmel seh’ is soft and inward while O Weh! when it is repeated is heartrendingly intense. Die zwei blauen Augen is so sad with the last stanza, Auf der Strasse steht ein Lindenbaum, magically sung. Whispering Mahler, indeed!

I have lots of marvellous Mahler recording on my bending shelves, recordings that I will not voluntarily be separated from. This latest disc will now join those with Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Brigitte Fassbaender, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Thomas Hampson and several others. I urge readers to follow my example.

Göran Forsling

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