MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde
Female British singers seem to have a special relationship with Mahler’s song-symphony and two of today’s finest mezzos are represented here. Alice Coote’s rendition comes in the context of a truthful-sounding Pentatone studio recording where her light, plaintive, carefully coloured sonority is not ideally complemented by the Heldentenor ish delivery of Burkhard Fritz. Coote takes Dame Janet Baker’s rapt introspection to a new level; Fritz has the vocal stamina but can seem a little ungainly in songs which, to be fair, resist plausible casting. Conductor Marc Albrecht joins in too (in the manner of the late Sir Colin Davis) and his vocal exhortations inspire sympathetic playing even if the sadness, loss and ultimate serenity of ‘Der Abschied’ remain the special province of his soloist.
While audiophiles may be less drawn to the LPO recording, captured at a single concert in February 2011 with patching from the morning rehearsal, the problems of close miking in a difficult hall are successfully camouflaged. The music-making is remarkable. It might be argued that Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s minute responsiveness is over the top, that he doesn’t (or can’t yet) call upon the darker emotions evoked by the likes of Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer and Leonard Bernstein – perhaps these will come later with intimations of mortality. This strikes me as the real deal nevertheless, just like his previous disc on the LPO label, a mesmerically slow account of Brahms’s German Requiem. The players, on top form, are participants rather than accompanists.
Toby Spence may raise a few eyebrows. For all that the timbre is unmistakably English, on CD at least he is never drowned out and there is much sensitivity too. What can there be left to say about Sarah Connolly, whose performances these days are pretty much beyond praise? Her voice is bigger, more dramatic, more adaptable than Coote’s, not perhaps so personal in timbre yet at once human and majestic. You’d have to go back to Christa Ludwig to find the lines dispatched with such secure technique, or to Dame Janet with Haitink for the ultimate in haunting nostalgia.
Design-wise, choice rests between Pentatone’s grey fingerprint motif and the LPO’s origami moths on a blue background. Both releases come with full texts and translations, though on the Pentatone issue the company name is rendered as ‘Pentetone’ part way through. It’s the rival issue that merits the stronger recommendation in