Mahler, A Complete Songs
If Alma Schindler had married someone called Gustav Schmidt or Alfred Jones, rather than Gustav Mahler, would people take so much interest in her songs? I doubt it. Still, in their typically fin-de-siècle way they are pleasant enough, though not so much that they can hold one’s attention for a full recital.
The first group, the Five Lieder first published in 1910 (although composed over 10 years earlier) have also been recorded by Angelica Kirchsclhager and by Isabel Lippitz. They both used the original piano accompaniments, but for this new CD, the conductor Jorma Panula has orchestrated all 16 of Alma Mahler’s surviving songs. He has for the most part avoided too much obvious parody of Gustav Mahler’s style, if anything the light orchestral touches recall more the Berg of the Seven Early Songs. Lillian Paasikivi has a full mezzo-soprano voice, at times she sounds rather over dramatic for the sort of girlish sentiment in ‘In meines vaters Garten’, the verse by Otto Erich Hartleben, or Heine’s ‘Ich wandle unter Blumen’. Kirchschlager is more restrained, but the orchestral arrangements add considerably to the appeal of these early efforts.
Although not published until 1915, the Four Songs were composed much earlier, before Alma’s marriage to Mahler. He insisted that she should cease to compose. Was he being cruel, or was he jealous of her ability? Or did he just not want to have to listen to her student efforts? I much prefer the the simple, piano-accompanied, performance by Christina Högman, with Roland Pöntinen, to the orchestrated version on the new CD.
Oh, dear, poor deluded Alma, her riotous affairs and social ambitions prevented her from developing as a composer. The most intriguing of all her songs is ‘Der Erkennende’, to a poem by Franz Werfel, whom Alma was to marry in 1929. But this song was composed in 1915, almost certainly the latest composition that survives. At this time she was married to Walter Gropius, having outgrown her affair with Kokoschka. Panula’s orchestration renders it almost Stravinsky-like, with a mournful woodwind figure underlining the voice. I like Lilli Paasikivi’s voice, and would be interested to hear her in a less ersatz repertory. Alma Mahler’s Lieder are at best a footnote. To dress them up like this may make them more palatable, but – go and listen to some really good songs, starting with Richard Strauss’s setting Richard Dehmel’s Waldseligkeit, of which Alma makes so little.