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Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde - Fischer (Ivan)

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde - Fischer (Ivan)

Channel Classics  CCSSA 40020

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

Gerhild Romberger, contralto
Robert Dean Smith, tenor
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer, conductor

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Review by Graham Williams - August 24, 2020

It is probable that this Channel Classics release of Mahler’s ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ marks the end of the survey of the composer’s symphonic compositions undertaken by Iván Fischer and his crack Budapest Festival Orchestra, the body that he co-founded with Zoltán Kocsis thirty seven years ago. Fischer’s acclaimed Mahler cycle began in 2005 with the 6th Symphony and steadily emerged as one of the finest on disc, thanks not least to the superb 5.0 multi-channel DSD recordings engineered by Jared Sacks in the Palace of Arts, Budapest.

The cover of this new SACD of the composer’s penultimate completed composition features a rather gaunt photograph of the conductor while inside the digipak there is a striking double page image of a mountain sunset. Together they provide an apt visual metaphor for ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ with its references to both the transitory nature of human existence and the constant renewal of the earth’s beauty. In the booklet notes Iván Fischer provides his own thoughts on the work writing,“’Die liebe Erde’, the lovable Earth that will stay and flourish in the spring (while we have less than 100 years to enjoy it), is the subject of Mahler’s adoration, the friend, to whom it is so painful to say farewell. This adoration of nature brings Mahler closer to Tao and Spinoza than to various religions he flirted with earlier. While saying farewell to the world, he found his true love and his true friend – planet Earth”.

As has always been the case with this conductor’s Mahler performances we have here an account that is distinctive, yet free of any interpretive mannerisms, and marked by meticulous attention to the score. Fisher’s pacing in each of the work’s six movements is impeccably judged – exemplified by a fleet-footed opening movement that immediately grips the listener and an expansive heart-wrenching doom-laden finale. His purposeful, sensitive conducting is attuned to both the colour and architecture of the work, ensuring that the contrasting character of each of the six movements is significantly delineated here in terms of the individual and corporate playing of the marvellous Budapest Festival Orchestra musicians. Fischer’s minute attention to the shaping of phrases results in textures of astonishing clarity achieved, of course, by superlative orchestral playing of great refinement.

It comes as no surprise then to assert with confidence that both performance and interpretation find the conductor and orchestra at the top of their respective forms. This, however, represents only half the picture as the contribution of the two vocal soloists is the major factor in judging the success of the whole enterprise.

Robert Dean Smith is a very experienced exponent of the three tenor songs in this work and he is in notably better voice here than on Jurowski’s recent version of this work. He delivers an especially thrilling account of ‘Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde’ seemingly unfazed by Fischer’s urgent driving tempo while in ‘Von der Jugend’ he conveys an appropriate lightness and sense of joy. His ringing Heldentenor is used with much flexibility in ‘Das Trunkene in Frühling’ and the sensitivity with which his voice caresses the meditative passage beginning with the line ‘Ein Vogel singt im Baum’ demonstrates his keen understanding of the text.

Fischer’s chosen soloist for the three songs allotted to the alto is the mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger who like Robert Dean Smith is a sought after interpreter of Mahler. She can already be heard on a CD of ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ on the MDG label and also on two recordings of the composer’s 3rd Symphony (Fischer and Haitink). There is no doubt that Romberger possesses a spectacularly beautiful and creamy voice, one that is secure across its full range and, in contrast with many of the contraltos who have essayed this piece on disc, Romberger’s voice has a light, pure timbre. Her diction and intonation in all three songs is impeccable, and she never produces an ugly sound. There is, however, for this listener at least, a problem. Her poised intimate singing lacks a degree of emotional involvement with the texts while its cool detachment is surely the last thing required in these songs. All too often I found myself marvelling at the subtle colouring and lucidity of the orchestral part rather than the expressive poetry Romberger was attempting to communicate, and by the end I was full of admiration for the beauty and technical accomplishment of her singing but left unmoved by it. Others may well feel differently in which case this recording could well be a top choice for them.

This multichannel (5.0 DSD 256) studio recording of ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ was made during March 2017 in the orchestra’s usual venue of the Palace of Arts, Budapest, by the Channel Classics team of Jared Sacks (Producer and recording engineer) ably assisted by Tom Caufield and Tom Peters. Even when judged by the state-of-the-art audio quality achieved on the earlier issues the sound here is exemplary; natural, detailed and clear, but never clinical.

The liner booklet provides full texts and translation of the settings (German/English) and concise notes on the work by Clemens Romijn.

There are a number of deeply satisfying recordings of this work to which this one may be confidently added.

Copyright © 2020 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by SteelyTom - August 27, 2020 (1 of 2)

Thanks for both Das Lied reviews, which remind me that performing the work is a bit like gymnastics- you'd better stick the landing.

Comment by Paul Hannah - August 29, 2020 (2 of 2)

I have been a lover of Fischer and his orchestra from their establishment and have purchased all of his SACDs

However I think I will give this one a miss............Sadly he simply does not measure up to Klemperer or Bernsteins efforts