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Wagner Mahler Garanca Salzburg 4861929
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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Gedichte für eine Frauenstimme “Wesendonck-Lieder” (1857-58) [20:45]
Text by Mathilde Wesendonck; Orch. Felix Mottl (1-4), Wagner/Mottl (5)
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Fünf Rückert-Lieder (1901-1902) [19:33]
Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano)
Wiener Philharmoniker/Christian Thielemann
rec. live, August 2020 (Wagner) & July-August 2021 (Mahler), Großes Festspielhaus, Salzburg
German texts with English translations
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 486 1929 [40:18]

In Spring this year, I posted a survey of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, since when this live performance of them coupled with Mahler’s Rückert Lieder has been released. I did a double-take when I read the total timing of 40:18 and my immediate thought was, “Cheeky – these had better be good.” I’m not sure how many people are prepared to pay full price for a recording half the length of a standard CD.

I was not uniformly complimentary about Garanča’s and Barenboim’s live Sea Pictures in my survey of that song cycle, observing that her delivery was a little wan and her low Gs “lacked heft”; however, it is immediately apparent here in the first song that she is she singing out more and actually overdoes the lower register somewhat - for example, suddenly switching into stentorian tones on “vor der Welt verborgen” ending on a booming low C - but it certainly makes a very positive impact and she cannot be accused of crooning. Her top notes have a slightly impure edge to them but again, she isn’t hiding behind “artistry” and displays commendable involvement. There is more than a hint of hysteria to the overt emotionalism of “Stehe still”; she almost shrieks “Wollens” on top G at the end of the second stanza. Her diction is pellucid; she seems very much at home with the text and is word perfect. A slight scratchiness of tone obtrudes in the longer, higher-lying lines of “Im Treibhaus” but the atmosphere is mesmerising and much there is delicate and ethereal. The top G at end of “Stehe still” pulses somewhat but she intends to thrill her audience and certainly pins back our ears. Surprisingly, Thielemann takes “Träume” just a shade too urgently for my taste but perhaps I am too accustomed to the somewhat more languorous approach of Janet Baker and Boult, as I must concede that the delivery here is undoubtedly passionately and deeply felt.

Garanča lightens her voice and lets the sunlight in for the first two, more insouciant, songs in the Mahler cycle – as a cycle it has become, even though Mahler did not intend it as such - and again the VPO plays with charm and Viennese lilt; their grainy woodwind are especially characterful. This is the right order for the five songs, I think, moving through a gamut of emotions which gradually darken, from youth and ecstasy through heroic resistance then despair, to doubt, then the abnegation and resignation. Of course, any performer of this cycle is judged by the success of the final, cumulative, canticle, which is almost a duet for voice and plaintive English horn; Thielemann and Garanča very successfully conjure up the requisite mood of still serenity.

It almost goes without saying the VPO plays beautifully and Thielemann displays his gift for bringing out orchestral detail, colours and textures; likewise, the engineering is predictably flawless regarding balance and sonority. This appears to be a composite recording; the selection of takes has resulted in a recording utterly virtually unblemished by any extraneous audience noise except for a single cough in “Um Mitternacht” and a couple of faint ones during the last song. The provision of texts and translations is most welcome.

These are the best things I have heard Garanča do. They do not necessarily replace my favourite versions – Janet Baker still stands supreme in both for me – but they are nonetheless beautifully performed and will disappoint no-one. It’s a pity about the stingy timing, though ….
Ralph Moore

I. Der Engel [2:55] with solo violin by Pieter Schoeman
II. Stehe still! [4:03]
III. Im Treibhaus [6:22]
IV. Schmerzen [2:17]
V. Träume [5:08]
Fünf Rückert-Lieder
I. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft [2:38]
II. Liebst du um Schönheit [2:30]
III. Um Mitternacht [5:46]
IV. Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder! [1:25]
V. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen [7:14]

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