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Mahler: Orchestral Songs
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2013
There are certain singers with whom you cannot discern any effort at all. Communication through music is entirely natural to them and the effect is therefore totally beguiling. Christian Gerhaher is one such singer. Nigh passive in his delivery, he nonetheless imbues every note and word with an understanding that is simultaneously hard-earned and uncomplicated. And by getting out of the way of the score he allows the music to communicate afresh, hitting you with its full emotional power, as on this slaying new recording of Mahler's orchestral song cycles.

So unhistrionic is Gerhaher that the effect of listening to an entire recital or recording can be rather draining, as you are faced with emotion without fabrication. There's therefore nobody better at communicating the of pain of the Austro-German world of Lieder. Gerhaher and his pianist Gerold Huber's 2009 recording of Mahler's Songs made for a particularly destroying experience. While the addition of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Kent Nagano on this new disc raises the dramatic bar somewhat, Gerhaher maintains his quietly lamenting approach.

Like Huber, however, Nagano makes sure that the performances never lapse into the self-indulgent, choosing predominantly brisk speeds. The playing is, however, superb, captured at live performances in the Mason symphonique de Montréal in January 2012, with the woodwind particularly shining, not least Pierre-Vincent Plante on the cor anglais. But like Gerhaher himself, the orchestra never intrudes, merely allowing Mahler's near-narratives to emerge note by note, word by word.

And that's the other main quality here, the texts. Each syllable has been subtly considered, thereby reaping much greater interpretative rewards than any grandstanding. Whether balancing the kinesis and hesitation of 'Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht', the delirious fervour of 'Oft denk' ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen!' or the subdued pain of 'Und ruh' in 'Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen', Gerhaher judges the songs flawlessly. These may be paler performances, but who said pain was colourful? To my mind this recording rivals the very best within an ever-growing Mahler discography.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great mezzo-sopranos Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig and Frederica Von Stade have all recorded these three songs-cycles, while Lorraine Hunt Lieberson has recorded the "Rückert-Lieder" only with piano, and in general I prefer a female voice in them. Fewer men have recorded them all, although there is no reason why they should not be interpreted by a male voice and some are treasurable. Not being a Fischer-Dieskau fan, my points of male comparison are with Mahler specialist Thomas Hampson's various recordings, starting with those made over twenty-five years ago with Bernstein, and Mahler Lieder collections by José van Dam and Andreas Schmidt. I have to say that I find so much more life and beauty in the singing of all three than I do here with Gerhaher - and that is without my having heard versions by singers such as Stephen Genz, Dietrich Henschel and Roman Trekel. Bo Skovhus included the Rückert-Lieder in a recital of early Mahler songs in the piano arrangement but it was not, to my mind, particularly successful; by and large, the ladies rule. However, I would love to hear the fine Austrian baritone Florian Boesch sing these songs.

Gerhaher has a light, faintly nasal baritone typical of more recent German vocal, tradition; he enunciates words carefully but there is almost no variety of tone or attempt to colour the sound; the effect for me is soporific rather than mesmeric. The nasality of the timbre increases with volume and pitch; I kept thinking of how Baker or Ludwig - or, in more apt and direct comparisons, Hampson and van Dam - colour a phrase and characterise whereas Gerhaher seems almost to croon. There is something to be said for a non-interventionist approach but alongside Hampson's and Bernstein's heart-on-sleeve delivery, Gerhaher seems very cool and pale.

However, he is certainly more animated in the "Rückert-Lieder", even if weak low notes compromise the integrity of his range, as in the opening of "Ich bin der Welt anhanden gekommen" and indeed throughout the song, despite the ease of his top. I find there to be very little still magic in his singing at the conclusion of this most rapt and metaphysical of songs; the serenity is provided by Nagano's orchestral postlude, even though the brisk tempo, resulting in a track length of 5'39", is too fast to permit real rapture.

Gerhaher's restrained plaintiveness is an emotion which might be more appropriate in the "Rückert-Lieder" but the "Songs of the Wayfarer" and the "Kindertotenlieder" are surely meant to be deeply moving, as they treat of tragic loss, hopeless love and the death of a child; Gerhaher seems too often to be offering a generalised experience of mild sadness and the songs are diminished thereby. Where some hear inwardness and effortless poise, I hear small-scale restraint. There is a marked difference between the generous phrasing and round, expansive beauty of José van Dam's "Liebst du um Schönheit" and Gerhaher's pinched reduction of this most ecstatic of love songs.

Less is more? Not if it's less, it isn't.

Nagano's accompaniment is sensitive and supportive; I particularly like the deliberately squally, rustic timbre of the oboe d'amore in "Um Mitternacht". The sound is very good but inconsiderate coughing is an irritation, as is the fact that the songs are not listed on the back of the CD; you have to pull out and open the booklet to find where individual songs are. No total timing is provided; the figure of 54'43" is mine.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 October 2013
A startling evocation of Mahler's delicate and masterful control of the song form. Although I have many recordings of his symphonic work this was my first taste of his orchestral songs. A revelation.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 August 2013
London (and BBC tv) witnessed Christian Gerhaher's rejuvenating interpretation of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen at the Proms, a few years back. For those of us wondering when a recording with orchestra would materialize, the wait is over. Sony's CD has the other major cycles in full, Kindertotenlieder and Rückert lieder, essays on all three and English translations of the lyrics. (Full details of the Montreal orchestra are also provided.)

Many baritones have fallen into the trap, perhaps gladly, of sounding like Fischer-Dieskau, the great interpreter of German song. In my experience, however limited, Gerhaher is the first to accept-internalize-transmute this and make his own distinctive contribution to the lieder catalogue. If I have one criticism it is that maybe the reading of the Kindertotenlieder is just a tad too mellifluous for first-person poems of bereavement. No doubts about the rest.

If you want a digital stereo Mahler lieder cycle and a souvenir of Gerhaher's singing, you won't be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2013
A wonderful, warm interpretation. Restrained yet heartfelt. This was the first time I had heard Christian Gehaher. I shall certainly search for more of his recordings
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on 22 March 2014
Wonderful performances of these Mahler orchestral songs by singer and orchestra. The Ruckert Lieder in particular are stunning. Highly recommended.
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on 3 January 2015
Almost like Fisher-Diskau, but very good Christian Gerhard. Superb Nagano. Result excellent versión.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 2013
My interest was encouraged by a press article and a chance encounter on classic fm, as I had not heard any of Christian Gerhaher's performances. Mahler can be dark at times but the soloist sounds like these songs were written for him. I particularly liked the Ruckert-Lieder.
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on 10 July 2015
Great!
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