Framing nine familiar Mahler songs with five considerably less familiar ones by Liszt makes for a pleasing program from Anne Schwanewilms, a German soprano not really known in america but well regarded at home. Although listed in Onyx's blurb as a dramatic soprano, she sings Guturne and the Marschallin, and the limpid timbre of her voice reminds me almost as much of a lyric soprano. It's beautifully suited to lieder, I must say; for sheer beauty there aren't many rivals right now. Schwanewilms also displays a natural flair for the appropriate style of Romantic song. She's not as sophisticated as, say, Schwarzkopf, but each of these readings has a wonderful inner glow.
The fly in the ointment is Charles Spencer's wooden piano playing, and the somewhat brittle nature of the instrument itself, as recorded here. The Fanfare reviewer complained of slow tempi, but Schwanewilms sings with so much attention to the text that she can carry them off. Most of the time she is successful in rising above her pianist's literalness. Some may complain that the folk-song side of Mahler's Wunderhorn songs requires more rusticity and drollery; certainly Schwanewilms sings this material straight, but then, critics used to complain that Schwarzkopf cooed her way through the same songs and inserted too many winks and nods. This album won't make history, but in the present dearth of high-quality lieder singing, it's a refreshing change.