For the longest time, Daniel Barenboim was hesistant to conduct the music of Gustav Mahler due to his aversion to the brand of faux folkish sentimentality that sometimes characterizes many of the composer's symphonies. It would take a trip to Vienna and an epiphany drawn from seeing Mahler's precious and marked score of Wagner's Tristan that Barenboim was able to begin seeing the subtleties of the composer's mastery of the orchestral medium. And thus began a journey with the composer's music that continues to deliver strength after strength with the inclusion of his 5th, 7th, and 9th symphonies to the discography.
This Das Lied von der Erde was taken from an earlier phase in Barenboim's association with this music. The singers he has contracted for the solo parts are Waltraud Meier and Siegfried Jerusalem, two musicians who are able to stay in line with their conductor's vision of Wagner's operas. Outside the operatic medium, they are able to deliver the mysterious, mystical, and serene poetry that Mahler used in his text with aplomb and sensitivity. It helps that both soloists are of healthy voice too, especially Jerusalem since most tenors who take on these massive songs forget that Mahler's songs are all about subtlety and care. Jerusalem had a lovely voice that when not put under stress gives one of the most splendid and mellifluous sounds ever produced by a tenor's throat. He was ideal in the parts that Barenboim assigned to him in his Ring, Tristan, and Parsifal, and he expresses a similarly able musicianship here in the Lied. No, he is no Wunderlich, but what abandon and intelligence he imbues his songs with (like the drunken song).
I suppose that another reason for pouring out superlatives for this recording is Waltraud Meier's altsolo. She is an unconventional singer who understood not only what she was asked to sing but why she sang them and how she is in relation to the text as an artist. Meier is without any doubt one of the finest artists of our time, her Isolde and her Kundry being her finest work. She is also exemplary as a lieder singer and this recording shows evidence of an artist who shaded her colorful voice to the bend and the curve of the music well. Her Abschied is heartbreaking as no other.
Barenboim, of course, is the main draw here. He is an extremely insightful artist who works with a broad range of colors, and his musicianship is exemplary when it comes to an orchestra of the CSO's distinction. He is able to gear the orchestra towards producing some of the most exuberant and subdued sounds and chooses the right color and dynamic for each phrase. Recently, his Mahler has become one of the high points of the discography, and I dare say that this Lied should be placed among that highly praised echelon of recordings.