Sunday, 4 March 2018

Mahler Wunderhorn-Lieder Volle, Mahler 10 Thielemann Munich

Latest release in the Münchner Philharmoniker initiative making its archives available on CD : Mahler Wunderhorn-Lieder and the Adagio from what would have been Mahler's Tenth Symphony, with Michael Volle, and Christian Thieilemann conducting.  Michael Volle is one of the finest singers in his Fach, and one of the stars of the Bayerisches Staatsoper. Since Volle hasn't recorded a great deal of Mahler, this is is a valuable addition to the discography.  His performance here is assured. His rich baritone is well-defined, and his delivery informed by an understanding of genre and context. 

On this recording, Volle is singing fully orchestrated versions of twelve songs. The original Des Knaben Wunderhorn texts published by Brentano and Arnim in 1806, were collected from oral tradition, and reflect an aesthetic even earlier than Lieder.  Late nineteenth century composers did not set out to replicate folk song, but Mahler's settings are informed by a perception of a pure world fast receding into the past.  With his Swabian background, and awareness of South German dialects, Volle expresses the charm of songs like Wer hat dies Liedlien erdacht  and Rheinlegendchen so they feel natural and unforced. "Büble, wir!", he sings, characterizing the couple in Verlorne Müh! with dignity : they may be rustic, but they deserve respect.  Lied des Verfolgten im Turm is, ironically, the only song in which Mahler borrows directly from folk melody, qouting the original in full, though following the textual changes Brentano and Arnim adopted to tone down its inherently rebellious anthem "Die Gedanken sind frei". Volle reinforces the message, biting his consonants so they cut, his timbre rising with impassioned power. 

But the finest moments on this recording come with songs like Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen,  true through-composed art song, even more haunting with full orchestra.  Quiet knocking at the door awakes a woman from sleep. She sees her lover, and welcomes him in. A nightingale sings. But horns are heard, calling as if from far away.  Echoes from the battlefield, "die grüne Haide, die ist so weit!"  The woman, too, must die that the lovers can re-unite. In Der Tamboursg'sell, the percussion beats the ominous death march, the brass wailing behind. Volle's voice rings out defiantly "Gute Nacht!", but the soft beating of drums remind us that the drummer boy is no more. 

Here the song flows seamlessly into Urlicht, a thoughtful pairing, since in Mahler's Second Symphony, Urlicht marks the  transition from funeral march to the "resurrection" of the Finale.  Volle sings "O Röschen rot!" breathing into the words, adding depth.  But the violin marks another transit. "Ach, nein !" sings Volle, with urgency, The sould will not be turned away "Ich bin von Gott, und will wieder zu Gott!". A third transit, in which Volle's voice softens, illuminated by the light of "das ewig, selig Leben!".  

Thus we are well prepared for the Adagio of what would have been Mahler's Symphony no 10.  Hearing the Adagio on its own in this context is surprisingly effective : you don't miss the rest of the symphony as you might otherwise.  Gossamer textures float, enhanced by the entry of a deeper, more resonant theme. The horns break away, as if they're leading us further onwards. The alternating themes develop it into a complex shifting between polarities, circling each other, interweaving rather than firmly connecting.  This might, or might not be a reflection on Mahler's relationship with Alma, whose bname is written into the manuscript. But if the Adagio is a looking back on the past, that also connects it, in purely musical terms, to the duality in so many songs in Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and the richness drawn from the many vignettes within.  Perhaps Alma didn't want the symphony to be heard in full because she wanted to preserve the nostalgia of the Adagio, much in the way that the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony can be interpreted.  But what to make of that shattering cataclysm at the end ?  Another good reason for hearing the Adagio with Des Knaben Wunderhorn, where cheery songs mix with songs of abject horror.  Although Thielemann didn't do much Mahler with the Münchner Philharmoniker, what he did do is very perceptive.

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