MAHLER Song Cycles
The breadth and variety of the catalogue for these three great Mahler song groups is such that any new recording has to offer something distinctive. Alice Coote, happily, is a singer who seems incapable of being anything else. Her mezzo is rich and multicoloured, imbued with an intrinsic intensity and emotional complexity. There’s never any doubting her intelligence as an artist or the commitment she brings as an interpreter. In some ways, then, this disc presents the sort of performances one would expect: deeply personal, vocally idiosyncratic (the highly individual Brigitte Fassbaender sounds almost mainstream by comparison) and never less than profoundly heartfelt.
There are drawbacks to her approach, though, in some unevenness and unsteadiness of line, and the phrasing can be bumpy. The voice is in constant flux, too: one moment there’s richness and grandeur – in the grand final phrase of ‘Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer’, for example – while the next the operatic veneer disappears to reveal a kind of breathy emotional nakedness beneath.
But the interpretations are often compelling, as well as remarkably tender, such as in the last phrase of ‘Ging’ heut’ Morgen’. And listen to the astonishing hush that descends at ‘ich bin gestorben dem Weltgetümmel’ (from 3'40") in a memorable account of ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, sung as the last of the Rückert-Lieder.
Coote’s Kindertotenlieder are fearless, too, made all the more intense, arguably, by vocal production that itself can sound almost pained – a stark contrast to the sovereign vocal command that, say, a Christa Ludwig brings to these songs. It’s not always beautiful, and Coote struggles to conjure up the sort of simplicity one wants at the start of ‘Wenn dein Mütterlein’, but there’s never any doubting the emotional truth.
Pentatone’s sound, slightly favouring the voice, is excellent, though it’s very stingy of them to offer neither texts nor translations. Marc Albrecht and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, terrific throughout, are particularly alive to the many gradations of dynamics and tempo that litter Mahler’s scores, not least in the ppp conclusion of ‘In diesem Wetter!’ – a moving end to a moving disc.