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A Restrained Farewell
on 11 December 2013
Recordings of Das Lied von der Erde are like buses... indeed, for all the many accounts of the Symphonies appearing on labels around the world, recordings of Mahler's late symphony-cum-song cycle crop up less frequently. Now, after Marc Albrecht's sterling effort with Alice Coote, Burkhard Fritz and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra earlier this year comes this lovely if more muted account from the LPO, Sarah Connolly and Toby Spence, under Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Spence is a confident Anglo-Saxon tenor soloist. He offers an assured middle ground between the operatic and Lieder-like tones of his various predecessors, though the first song lacks the air of true desperation suggested by the text. He bounces suitably coyly through 'Von der Jugend' and strides out afresh in 'Der Trunkene im Frühling' though he could offer a more emasculated view of masculinity.
Sarah Connolly is typically heartrending. What 'Der Einsame im Herbst' lacks in abject eeriness it more than makes up for in luxurious appeal. Yet Connolly's own contribution to the work's adumbrated Scherzo, 'Von der Schönheit', is perhaps too rich. It is impossible not to be moved by 'Der Abschied'. Here Nézet-Séguin takes more time, allowing the woodwind solos to something more improvisatory, eerily wrapping themselves like bindweed around Connolly's silver-throated though anguished pleas.
And yet, while the LPO plays well throughout, the performance never reaches absolute fever pitch. There is a superb sense of communication between the various instruments in the Finale, yet the grave return to C minor is played down to the point of anticlimax. Some may enjoy hearing this work as if through a gauze, but ultimately I prefer Marc Albrecht's more headstrong account. Its ability to project a truly anguished mood in the opening songs, as well as basking in the more picturesque passages, makes the final farewell all the more desolate.