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Gustav Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn: "Urlicht", "Das himmlische Leben", "Das irdische Leben", "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen" & "Revelge" – Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen – Rückert-Lieder
Janina Baechle (mezzo-soprano), Markus Hadulla (piano)
No information on recording date or venue – 72'34
Marsyas MAR-1809 – Notes in English; song texts in German

The opening and closing phrases (in the songs “Urlicht” and “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” respectively) on this recording are exquisite. In between, however, lurks a maddeningly variable performance of Gustav Mahler’s most treasurable songs.

The sound pickup is magically crystal clear, a factor that makes the listener sit up and put the entire CD under a aural microscope. Pianist Markus Hadulla comes through with flying colours - the singer, not so much. While Janina Baechle is able to float the high, ecstatic notes Mahler demands in songs like “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”, her lower (and one would think her more comfortable) range consistently goes flat and squally. The excessively slow tempo of many of the songs also makes things difficult for her. In addition to this, she barely characterizes the dramatic songs, such as the cycle about unrequited love, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (“Songs of a Wayfarer”), or the strophic ballads from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, such as “Das irdische Leben” (“Earthly Life”) which recounts an exchange between a mother and her starving child. This song is preceded by “Das himmlische Leben” (“The Heavenly Life”), the song Mahler also used in the final movement of his Symphony No. 4. In the symphony it is ideally sung by a youthful, almost child-like soprano, not an Ortrud-esque mezzo. If she took this on as an act of daring, it simply doesn’t work.

Any such collection issued today inevitably gets compared to the rich catalogue that has been amassed - let’s just cite Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Jessye Norman or Ms Baechle’s mentor, Brigitte Fassbaender. This CD falls far short.

A vocal recital CD on which the most recommendable aspect is the pianist is not really a recommendable CD, unfortunately.

Michael Johnson




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