MAHLER Kindertotenlieder STRAUSS Tod und Verklärung
The catalogue already has a couple of recordings of Mahler’s devastating song-cycle from that most devastating of singers, Brigitte Fassbaender. But this one, recorded live with Sergiu Celibidache in Munich in 1983 and now officially released in a new remastering on the Munich Philharmonic’s own label, might well lay claim to being the most compelling, the most deeply moving.
It opens with a daringly slow account of ‘Nun will die Sonn’ so hell ausgehen’ – nearly two minutes longer than Fassbaender’s account with Riccardo Chailly and over a minute longer than that, also recorded live, with Klaus Tennstedt. It sets the tone of rapt concentration, of intense engagement with music that brings one deep into the heart of its painful, tender tragedy.
The other songs are less radically daring but no less moving. Fassbaender’s concentration is compelling; the voice’s characteristic richness and the inherent intelligence and emotional engagement of the mezzo’s approach only gain in power by the remarkable steadiness of the singing, by an apparent attempt to maintain something like a stiff upper lip. But when the emotional floodgates are opened – at ‘O du, des Vaters Zelle’ (from 4'03") in ‘Wenn dein Mütterlein’, for example, or in the despair of ‘In diesem Wetter’ – the effect is overwhelming.
The playing of the Munich Philharmonic throughout is a model of concentrated, sensitive support, and the postlude to ‘In diesem Wetter’, in particular, is exquisitely realised. The Bavarian Radio sound is very good, too: it captures Fassbaender within an airy acoustic that presents the voice more naturally and less stridently than the Decca recording.
The Strauss coupling is in many ways fascinating, with Celibidache here pushing the piece’s running time to half an hour. Parts of the performance are admittedly very slow, but elsewhere the conductor certainly doesn’t shy away from putting his foot on the accelerator, sometimes rather alarmingly. He builds up the final minutes beautifully, almost hypnotically, but there are a few awkward transitions elsewhere, and too much for me that sags – at around the 12'25" mark, for example, after which a frantic accelerando leaves the band floundering, too.
The Strauss is intriguing, then, but it’s Fassbaender’s extraordinary Mahler that makes this an essential purchase.