BERIO Sinfonia MAHLER 10 Frühe Lieder
All the post-war masters looked to Mahler for inspiration in their own ways. To Stockhausen he was a visionary, beyond parody: ‘For those who do not accept the message of the poems Mahler used, his music can only be an acoustic toy.’ When he wrote those words in 1972, he could well have had the third movement of Sinfonia in mind. If so, Berio proceeded to prove him wrong, not only with these ‘straight’ orchestrations of songs in Mahler’s early and folkiest vein, but also with a series of works in which he wove himself into the music of the past by Schubert, Boccherini, Puccini and others with sincerity, affection and no small measure of Stockhausen-sized pride, much as Schubert and Richard Strauss saw themselves fit to quote Beethoven.
So the coupling on this disc is original and soundly conceived. Matthias Goerne projects each song with ursine power and humour, albeit in slightly frayed voice. His larger-than-life stage persona fits Berio’s vividly faithful arrangements, as though Mahler himself had taken time out from orchestrating the Seventh Symphony to work on them. Goerne and Josep Pons have also performed Das Lied von der Erde together, and their fellow feeling for a late-Mahlerian, nostalgia-soaked aesthetic is illustrated to powerful if disconcerting effect by an icy expressionist edge which chills the verdant exuberance of ‘Frühlingsmorgen’ and ‘Hans und Grete’.
On a first hearing, Pons may appear to bring a less decisive force of personality to Sinfonia, content to marshal a crystalline backing track from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and leave the meat of the work’s eschatological argument to the eight singers of Synergy Vocals, who are placed very forwardly in the mix. But then so were the Swingle Singers in the composer’s own pioneering recording, and I will hazard that Pons has taken careful note of it. In that notorious third-movement palimpsest of Western music, the effect is frankly confrontational as quotations jostle for attention like caricatured egos in a balloon debate. Even the often-overlooked fourth movement pulses with a newly imagined tension and flickers with a no less exquisitely observed attention to the interface of text and music than found in the second-movement elegy to Martin Luther King. Much as I liked Hannu Lintu’s Ondine recording, this new one feels even truer to the spirit of ’68 which inspired Sinfonia.