Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde – review

Coote/Fritz/Netherlands PO/Albrecht

Alice Coote's many admirers will be grateful to have her performance in Mahler's great song-symphony documented in a carefully made studio recording, for she has emerged over the past few years as one of the finest mezzo interpreters of Das Lied von der Erde around today. Her singing may not be as sumptuous as some, but it is exquisitely coloured; every word matters, and the sadness that pervades the mezzo songs in particular is conveyed without it ever becoming self-conscious or sentimental.

The rest of this performance isn't quite on Coote's level. Burkhard Fritz is the tenor, efficient and more or less on top of the formidable challenges Mahler sets him, but too often sounding under a pressure that drains most of the character from his singing. Marc Albrecht's conducting tends to be under-characterised, too; some of it is very beautiful – he and the Netherlands Philharmonic make the opening of the second song, Der Einsame im Herbst, quite spellbinding, for instance – but there are too many moments, especially in the final movement, Der Abschied, when you long for the orchestra to dig deeper and create a real emotional counterbalance to Coote's raptly poised singing.

The release of this disc has coincided with the appearance of EMI's final batch of Otto Klemperer reissues, bringing together all the recordings he made with the Philharmonia and New Philharmonia orchestras from the mid-1950s until his death in 1973. One of them is a box devoted to Mahler, and alongside four of the symphonies, including Klemperer's monumental account of the Second, and his craggy, stoic reading of the Ninth, there's his legendary 1964 performance of Das Lied von der Erde, with Christa Ludwig and Fritz Wunderlich as the matchless soloists. It is, simply, one of the great classical recordings of all time.

On disc, at least, no tenor has come close to Wunderlich's effortless power and lyrical ardour, while Ludwig's performance is matched only by the recording she made 11 years later with Herbert von Karajan. While the Pentatone disc is well worth hearing, especially for Coote's contribution, no collection should be without Klemperer's performance.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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