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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 27 June 2003
If a recording truly does honour to EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" collection it is certainly this one. Although not made without problems --Walter Legge's original Philharmonia Orchestra started to fall appart in mid-recording and so a portion of the work was actually played by what came to be known for over a decade as the "New Philharmonia" orchestra, a fact that was noticeable in the original LP album labels but apparently forgotten in subsequent re-issues-- their effect --if any-- are unpercievable, such is the degree of concentration in spite of the interruptions in the recording process represented by the orchestra's disputes with their founder. Who knows, perhaps because of that the recording came out so perfectly done, as if the musicians were thinking to teach Legge a lesson in that this would embody the perfect legacy of one of the best orchestral ensembles ever assembled in London, of whose permanence in time no one was sure at he time (the orchestra survived, as we now know, and always among the top London orchestras, first as the "New Philharmonia" and from the end of the 70's on again with their original name, but not with that golden qualities of the late 50's and early 60's). The Klemperer way with the work is, as is to be expected, severe, objective and very much to the point, his concern for clarity of articulation (derived from coaxing clarity from the players themselves and not the result of engineering trickery) yielding miracles in our understanding of the inner construction of the piece, a "modernistic" Mahler 180° removed from more expressive conductors (more on this later), his habitual orchestral seating arrangement an additional bonus (violins split left and right of the conductor, horns and related family back left, trumpets and trombones back right). The much-lamented Fritz Wunderlich proves an ideal and wise choice, and Ludwig rose magnificently to the ocasion in spite of her reputed dislike of, or indifference with, the results (she is reported to prefer her remake of some years later with Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic). A work like this deserves to be considered from more than a single point of view, though. This Klemperer recording is magnificent, mind you, and in no way will you go wrong if you purchase it, but I'd recommend to any person interested in this odd mixture of a symphony and a song cycle to also try another view, one that exploits its many emotional facets. Walter's readings provide an interesting alternative to Klemperer's severity (either the 1952 mono Decca made in Vienna or the stereo CBS made in New York City with a top-form NY Philharmonic, both with a fabulous singer -Ferrier in Vienna, Haefliger in NY- and a so-so one), but if you want to go the full monty buy the Decca Bernstein, made in Vienna in 1966 with James King and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau essaying the male voice alternative to the alto voice. The depths achieved by Bernstein and Fischer-Dieskau in "Der Abschied" get as close to the bare bones of the true soul of this work as no other recording I know of, legal or pirate. Bernstein can go into excesses alright, but in the end and in its very own way, isn't this about excess? So my final recommendation: buy both, as in their peculiar ways they belong inextricably with each other.
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on 16 October 2001
This excellent recording of Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde was released in 1998 by EMI in the Great Recordings of the Century series: its place as one of the great recordings of the 20th Century is well-deserved.
Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911) called Das Lied von der Erde (1907- 1909) as his most personal composition. It compiles six songs to poems from Hans Bethge's Die Chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute). The songs are sung alternately by the mezzo-soprano and the tenor.
This large orchestral song cycle was recorded in the early 1960s by internationally reknowed artists: Christa Ludwig (Mezzo-Soprano), Fritz Wunderlich (Tenor), the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer. The remastering by EMI is remarkable and therefore the sound quality equals any contemporary recording.
Musically, particularly the interpretation of both singers is outstanding, with a very clear German diction and a sensitive vocal expression. This recording was done when Fritz Wunderlich's international career reached its climax, having built a reputation as singer of Lieder and interpretations of roles in Mozart operas. This recording adds perfectly in the collection for Wunderlich-lovers, whose career was cut short by a tragic fatal accident in 1966.
The balance between orchestra and the soloists is another point of excellence in this recording. Otto Klemperer, who reached the height of his conducting career, leads the orchestra well-balanced and with a transparent sound-layer as an ideal accompanying "instrument". Nevertheless, all the orchestral nuances are brought out support all heights and lows of emotions, expressed by the singers. It should be added that Klemperer had recorded this work twice; this recording was made after his legendary Beethoven cycle (1957 - 1959) with the same orchestra.
This recoding is definitely one of the best recordings available on CD, and reasonably priced.
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on 26 May 2006
Yes - two! Wunderlich with the Philharmonia in Kingsway Hall, and Ludwig with New Philharmonia in Abbey Road, 29 months later. But you'd never know. Sound quality is excellent, although Wunderlich is somewhat forward. Wonderful singing and evocative, haunting playing. Simply the best...
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on 8 January 2012
There are many fine recordings of Das Lied von der Erde out there, but only several truly special ones. You will often find that a recording will have much going for it, only to be spoiled by a weak link in the chain - perhaps one of the soloists not being on quite the same high level as the other, or indeed an orchestra that plays on automatic pilot instead of getting inside the music. No such reservations here however. Klemperer, with his unrivaled experience as a Mahler conductor, conveys an impression of solidity, utter conviction and guides the listener through the work by revealing many instrumental details that are often missing in other accounts. The Philharmonia play with a rich, warm sound - those famous strings sounding positively Germanic - and the woodwind playing with an impressive palate of colours.

The orchestra launches into the opening song with enormous vitality and weight (the listener is in no doubt that this is a drinking song!). Both Fritz Wunderlich and the Philharmonia convey the delirious state in such an impressive manner - the conception here is extremely solid and technically flawless. Wunderlich is magisterial in this demanding part, especially when it comes to the frenzied climax describing the howling ape!

When we come to Der Einsame im Herbst, the mood and atmosphere has altered completely - here we enter a sombre, autumnal world of half-light and loneliness. Ludwig is masterful at communicating this sense of longing and weariness, her rich voice comes across with an intelligent sense of phrasing and great attention to the word setting. Klemperer paces this song very well indeed (perhaps a touch slower than you normally hear) but there is a constant pulse which runs through it and never flags. Perhaps the only thing I would wish for is a sound from the oboe and strings which is a bit more ethereal - in his attempt to convey the structure of the music so well Klemperer tends to paint in pastel colours, meaning that occasionally you might lose some mystery which you find in other recordings.

Now when we come to the 3rd, 4th and 5th songs, Klemperer's choice of pacing is the one element that might put some people off. In Von der Jugend, instead of skipping along with the lightest touch (like you normally hear), Klemperer holds back a bit and injects more poise and space into the music. Wunderlich of course adapts to this approach extremely well - the one advantage being that you can hear the words more clearly - but for some it might just be a bit too deliberate. However, in the fourth song Klemperer is magnificent in the delicate and sweet outer sections, the mood is caught to perfection and Ludwig is completely at ease. One might wish for a bit more abandon in the central galloping section, but Klemperer's more considered approach does pay dividends.

Wunderlich is in his element again as the Drunkard in Spring, swaying to and fro with the orchestra - they really are connected so well here. The various colours and dynamic nuances are brought out particularly well by the Philharmonia strings.

Finally we come to Der Abschied. Here we can fully appreciate the fantastic quality of the recording - the bass rumblings and delicate wind orchestration is caught in great sound, you can really hear all the details. Christa Ludwig is even better in this final song than in the previous ones, moving from distant introspection at the opening to the final passionate farewell with consummate ease. The one thing I love about Klemperer's conception of this final song is that when we reach 'Die liebe Erde' there is a huge release of energy as though everything has suddenly moved onto another, higher plane - not the slow, meditative conclusion you often hear - but one of ecstatic rapture.

So why only 4 stars I hear you ask? Well, if I could I would give it 4 and a half stars. It is without doubt one of the finest accounts of Mahler's Das lied on record - there is no weak link in the line-up at all. We have two top-flight singers, a fantastic orchestra and a master craftsman at the helm. Yet for all that, it will not be to everybody's taste. For some listeners Klemperer's more stately approach in the inner songs might prove too much and that's perfectly understandable. For those who wish to hear a recording of Das Lied with more mystery (and a lighter-handed approach in the middle songs) I would perhaps turn to recordings by Bruno Walter, Horenstein, Kubelik or Haitink. Of course one can never have too many interpretations to savour and I would not be without Klemperer's recording for the world.
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on 28 June 2015
This is the far and away the best recording of Das Lied von der Erde. The performances by Fritz Wunderlich and Christa Ludwig are simply out of this world and Klemperer's conducting is sensitive and nuanced without ever sounding pretentious. The sound quality is outstanding. Anyone who appreciates Mahler's deep spiritual angst must own this CD.
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on 28 November 2014
This is an absolutely classic performance by Klemperer. There is no sentimentality here as he brings out the modernistic aspects of the music. But with two of the greatest soloists ever to record it, this is an absolute gem of a performance. What ever other recordings you have this should be one of them.
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on 12 July 2014
A absolutely beautiful CD, both voices are a joy to listen to.I am usually not a fan of Lieder, but this is just something so wonderful and I listen to them over and over again. Klemperer and his orchestra play with such sensitivity ...I can't stress enough how much joy this CD has given me.
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on 21 June 2014
It was with some trepidation that I approached this CD after an absence of 30 years when I had it on vinyl last.As it turns out I need not have worried. I purchased the disc as I read that EMI had remastered the original tapes so I wondered what it would sound like.
Would Wunderlich still be as clear and melodious , would Ludwig sill retain that spine tingling tone in her lower register and would Klemperer's magic still be there in his dealings with the orchestra. As i do all my listening with headphones now I had prepared myself for some differences with my listening experience.The first thing I noticed on playing was how clean it was, on the first song
his voice was like cut crystal and the CD became involving from that song onwards.My one niggle up until I came to the last song was a lack of very deep bass, or was I just becoming confused as the last time I had listened to it was in a warm analogue glow through massive monitors ? By der Abscheid Ludwig's glorious lower register and Mahler took over and it became one of my most
rewarding experiences on CD. You must do yourself a favour and buy this CD for yourself. You will be rewarded with one of the greatest Mahler collaborations of last century. When first playing the disc be prepared for your tear ducts leaking as Ludwig sings the last farewells though. This is a marvelous recording very well remastered.
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VINE VOICEon 13 November 2010
Although I have been a great admirer of Mahler's music since I first heard Bernstein's CBS Recordings of his symphonies during the 1960s, I was never a fan of this work even though I had a LP of Fritz Reiner's recording with the Chicago Symphony; Maureen Forrester and Richard Lewis being the soloists. This was released in 1969 on the RCA Victrola label. Consequently, I rarely played it despite the fact that it is an excellent recording with fine performances. To this day, I regret ignoring this work, and since my musical tastes have matured over the years, I have now come to realise that "Das Lied von der Erde" is indeed a masterpiece.

Mahler composed this work after suffering a period of profound depression when he was diagnosed with a heart defect. Fearing that his life was coming to an end, he composed some of his most profoundly moving and emotional music, as his final testament by composing the 9th Symphony, Das Lied von der Erde and the unfinished 10th symphony between the years 1908 and his death in 1911.

Although Das Lied has been recorded many times over the years, with some fine performances and recordings being available, this version here must be considered as ONE of the finest ever. Otto Klemperer maintains a wonderful tempi throughout, with some fine singing from both tenor and soprano. I particularly like the sound balance too, although in some of the quieter moments, I did turn up the volume a little, particular during the Abschied movement which contains some of Mahler's finest music.

I am sure that many Mahlerians will have their own particular recordings of this sublime work, but I am also sure that they will have a copy of this recording too. A fine recording.
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on 8 December 2008
In my search for great recordings of Das Lied, I've long avoided this one because I knew critics and listeners alike praise it to the skys. That means it stays in print for long time, and meanwhile I could search for more elusive great recordings. I've come across many sublime recordings on the way - Ormandy, Reiner, Tennstedt, Kubelik (live version), Karajan, Horenstein, Giulini...

And now when I finally listened to the celebrated Klemperer/Ludwig recording, I was very impressed by the vivid and beautifully sculpted reading by Klemperer and by Ludwig's outstanding singing, but I was not as moved as some of the above accounts. Great recording as it may be, Klemperer's account lacks something more which takes the music on a higher realm. Personally, I think Reiner, Ormandy, Horenstein, Tennstedt, and Kubelik's live recording have that transcendental quality.
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