Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week

Sarah Connolly/Robert Dean Smith/RSO Berlin/Vladimir Jurowski
(Pentatone)
The conductor’s fine recording with the Berlin Radio Symphony has accuracy, perception and crystalline detail

Most of Vladimir Jurowski’s previous Mahler recordings have been made with the London Philharmonic, taken from their concerts together at the Royal Festival Hall in London and released on the orchestra’s own label. But this fine version of Das Lied von der Erde comes from a performance that he conducted in Berlin in October 2018, with his other orchestra, the Berlin Radio Symphony. The accompanying booklet includes an essay on the great song symphony by Jurowski himself, which is full of insights. The concluding Abschied, he writes, marks a return to “an individual identity by a ‘lyric’ artist who owes so much to the tradition of Schubert, a deliberate resignation from the ‘heroic’ path of Beethoven, in whose footsteps Mahler seemed to follow for such a long time”.

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde album artwork
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde album artwork Photograph: PR Handout

There’s certainly nothing heroic or elegiac about this performance, no heart-on-sleeve in mezzo Sarah Connolly’s account of that great finale, in which Jurowski shapes the instrumental commentary with meticulous accuracy, while the intrusions of the everyday world in the joyous outbursts of the earlier movements take on a deliberately abrasive quality. Tenor Robert Dean Smith sounds under pressure in the opening Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde – but then what tenor (other than Fritz Wunderlich on Otto Klemperer’s classic recording) does not? Smith is impressively sure-footed, though, in his two other songs.

Nothing heart-on-sleeve about this performance ... Sarah Connolly.
Nothing heart-on-sleeve about this performance ... Sarah Connolly. Photograph: Christopher Pledger

Some may prefer a more subjective approach in what is probably Mahler’s greatest and certainly his most personal achievement, instead of Jurowski’s determined objectivity, and perhaps there’s a balance to be found between these extremes. But there’s no doubting the logic of this performance, in which the Berlin orchestra makes every detail crystal clear.

This week’s other pick

Mark Elder and the Hallé are working their way steadily through Debussy’s orchestral music on their own record label, and their latest release brings together the longest of the French composer’s concert scores, the Images for Orchestra, with his most famous work, the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune. Elder is always persuasive – there’s nothing unnecessarily showy or sentimental about his shaping of the Images, while the Hallé’s playing is beautifully refined – every colour and texture in Prélude à l’Après-midi is perfectly placed. They include a couple of interesting miniatures, too – Debussy’s own orchestration of the languorous piano piece La Plus que Lente, with its prominent use of the cimbalom, and Colin Matthews’ transcription of one of the piano Images, La Lune Descend sur la Temple qui Fut, the latest iridescent Debussy orchestration Matthews has made for the Hallé.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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