Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde - Roberto Saccà / Stephen Gadd / Jonathan Nott
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Roberto Saccà (tenor)
Stephen Gadd (baritone)
Jonathan Nott (conductor)
Review by John Miller - May 14, 2017
A warm welcome for this new 'Das Lied von der Erde', marking the completion of Jonathan Nott's cycle of Mahler Symphonies, which arrived on SACDs in a near-torrent of other Mahler sets just a few years ago. Nott's long association with the Bamberg Symphony (2000-2016) has been marked in particular by the much admired cycle of the Mahler Symphonies and plus an extensive Schubert Project.
Nott further extends his abilities to make special relationships with other orchestras including Music Director of Tokyo Symphony Orchestra (extended until 2020). He has also just begun his tenure as Music and Artistic Director of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Under his offices, The Bamberger Symphoniker became the music centre of the entire region (Free State of Bavaria), honoured by the title of "Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie". 7000 concerts in more than 60 countries and 500 cities – with this record, the Bamberger Symphoniker is rightly considered the German touring orchestra.
A conductor's first decision in making a plan for performing 'Das Lied von der Erde' has to decide which, alto or baritone, will join the tenor for the two singing roles. In the score, Mahler writes 'Alto' first, with "Baritone if an Alto is not available". Curiously, therefore, despite his evident preference for an alto, it seems that in the past few years, in recent recorded and live performers of Das Lied have been baritones rather than altos.
Nott employs Robert Saccà (b.1961, German) as tenor. Saccà guests at the world's Opera Houses, and it has been said of him "one of the best-known and best-loved of our time". The chosen baritone is Steven Gadd (b. 1964, English), who moved on from completing an Engineering Degree, then, to change his life by entering the Royal Northern College of Music. He won the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship, and was a finalist in the inaugural Plácido Domingo Operalia Competition. Now he has long lists of his performances in operas and orchestral pieces and he is a much-desired baritone.
Mahler was obsessed by two forms of music; song and symphony, which he deeply fused late on in the masterpiece of 'Das Lied von der Erde'. A work of stunning power in the autumnal mood of Late Romanticism, this has become a world-wide repertoire favourite, cherished by musical artists and their audiences. The inspiration for the last symphony came in 1907, a time in which death surrounded him (the death of his daughter and the brutal diagnosis of his own severe cardiac condition). By chance, he came across a collection of Chinese poetry from the 8th century (Die chinesische Flöte - 'The Chinese Flute'), translated by Hans Bethge into German from a French translation .
Poems by Li Po attracted Mahler, and in his usual way with poetic texts used in his music, he altered or added to them to suit a particular musical vision, emphasising his own preoccupations with life and death. In Der Abschied, for example, nearly half of the text is Mahler's own, and the final stanza is Mahler apart from a couple of words. There is a fundamental difference between ancient Chinese and Western Poetry, where the Chinese characters indicate subjects or ideas which resonate in the reader's mind and can have various meanings. Thus the first translations of the poems by Li Po and others by French linguists were attempts at approximating the texts into Western syntax, and thus largely guesswork. This consideration should be taken in the minds of interpreters.
The cycle of Mahler's songs 'Das Lied von der Erde' expresses a dualism of feeling: ecstatic pleasure, which is shadowed by dark forebodings. Within these is a musical style of the autumnal Late Romanticism. Mahler calls on the orchestra to suggest the exotic atmosphere present in the texts, and to sustain and supplement the solos. The orchestra has to do this both in the accompaniment and the extensive colourful connecting interludes. Mahler's orchestrations certain challenge the Bamberger Symphoniker with a large, varied collection of instruments. The score calls for three flutes and piccolo, three oboes (third doubling English horn), three clarinets with high clarinet in E‑flat and bass clarinet, three bassoons (third doubling contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, two harps, mandolin, celesta, timpani, glockenspiel, tam-tam, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, tambourine, snare drum, and strings.
Under the direction of Nott, the detail of Mahler's new orchestral textures and control of the score's complex dynamics combine to make an orchestral setting of admirable depth within the marvellous ambience of Konzerthale Bamberg. The violins are pure velvet, very close in tone to those of the Berlin Philharmonic. Details which permeate the Hall are still audible in its deepest regions, for example gentle touches on the tam-tam - which raise the skin on one's neck. Woodwinds also are superbly interleaved in the general sound, particularly producing many bird songs which hint at realistic landscapes.
As regards the soloists, they are both careful to obey the many detailed instructions which Mahler inserted in the score. As well as pace and dynamics, there are instructions about manner. A most important instruction is at the beginning of the 6th song (Der Abschied), "In narrative tone, without expression", which Stephen Gadd does, despite the emotional orchestra around him. Not knowing this instruction, many listeners are disappointed that 'The Farewell' on their CD is not heart-rending enough at the end.
I am very impressed indeed by both soloists, and also their magnificent orchestral support. Secca, for example, carries away the first and last part of 'The Drinking Song of Earth' with complete control; he is golden, a Heldentenor, able to abruptly change to a sweet, gentle youth in the middle section. Gadd's tear-raising in 'The Lonely One in Autumn', a baritone with an atmospheric oboe, immediately makes a dark mood like that of Schubert's 'Wanderer'. With a certainty of death in Winter, he opens his heart, in a great orchestral climax, for he is yearning for his beloved (and I have tears in my eyes). A notable feature of Gadd's voice is that he has the best articulation of a baritone that I have ever heard, loud or soft. This means that you can easily follow the texts in the Tudor booklet - which happens (thankfully) to have a large font size.
Overall: Nott's Bamberger Symphoniker is in top form, as are Secca and Gadd. Some listeners of the earlier Nott's Mahler Symphonies found the recordings were sometimes rather far back, but this recording is an SACD which is realistic in all senses, artistic and technical. The balances of instruments and clarity in a wide-stage are exemplary, if you use 5.1 multichannel. I'm sure that owners of the Bamberger Mahler's 9 SACDs or a box thereof will be very happy to have this. I am!
Copyright © 2017 John Miller and HRAudio.net