Performer: Klaus Florian Vogt, Christian Gerhaher
Orchestra: Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal
Conductor: Kent Nagano
Composer: Gustav Mahler
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks)
Size: 243 MB
01. Das Lied Von Der Erde/I. Das Trinklied Vom Jammer Der Erde. Allegro Pesante
02. Das Lied Von Der Erde/II. Der Einsame Im Herbst. Etwas Schleichend. Ermüdet
03. Das Lied Von Der Erde/III. Von Der Jugend. Behaglich Heiter
04. Das Lied Von Der Erde/IV. Von Der Schönheit. Comodo. Dolcissimo
05. Das Lied Von Der Erde/V. Der Trunkene Im Frühling. Allegro
06. Das Lied Von Der Erde/VI. Der Abschied. Schwer
Nagano, MontrealSO, Vogt, Gerhaher: Mahler Das Lied Von Der Erde: Cool, Lush, Detailed Reading
I’ve been wondering and waiting on Montreal. Ever since I read some years ago about a concert performance of Mahler’s Das Lied Von Der Erde with the fabulous Ewa Podles in the alto part. What a reading that would be, I imagined. Now we do get this late-penned symphony/song cycle by Mahler from Montreal – not led by Charles Dutoit or Yoav Talmi or Yannick Nezet-Seguin, but by Kent Nagano. What we get on this disc is consistent with Nagano’s more objective, cool way with the composer. Just check out his other Mahler readings – Mahler Third Symphony (Peckova), Mahler Eighth Symphony – or even give him a spin in Berlioz (Les nuits d’ete), Bruckner (3,4,6), or Olivier Messiaen.
What you will hear is a cool yet detailed grasp of large musical canvases. Nothing much slighted but nothing much exaggerated or over-heated either. Going all the way back to Erich Leinsdorf and George Szell, Nagano walks contentedly in paths of clear-eyed, musical restraint. When it comes to Mahler, Nagano is the anti-Bernstein. Certainly this DLVDE is cool antipode to Bernstein’s famous hothouse reading in Vienna (James King tenor, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau baritone). In the Vienna Bernstein we pretty much get every possible caress and inflection of the musical line, ripe and rich in musical texture, and hot, hot, hot with every last drop of the steamy-nostalgic emotional expressiveness that either Mahler or Bernstein could bear to wring from the modern orchestra. Here we get that same, wonderful, modern big band – cool, lush in musical tonal colors, detailed.
This Mahler is all present, but he is not a show-off in any sense of those terms.
Tempos are steady and well-judged. Nagano is not just metronomically routine, clocking his way through, tick tock tick tock, while he waits unmoved for the last notes to arrive so that he can speed on to the next musical paragraphs. He breathes with the music and with his singers and his players, though not in any way which calls attention to his tempo or manners.
Breathing with the singers is not something I felt I could anticipate being able to take for granted with Nagano. I’ve heard the power-conducting disaster that was Nagano leading in the complete Warner set of Puccini’s Boheme. What otherwise would have become a recording of the century – Richard Leech and Kiri Te Kanawa singing their considerable hearts out? – became a singer’s indiscreet war for survival every time Nagano bore down the Puccini tracks with his band locomotive going full tilt, and take no vocal prisoners. Well. Nobody’s musically perfect; but that Puccini was a sad disaster.
What about the singers here?
Our tenor is Klaus Florian Vogt. Our baritone is Christian Gerhaher. Vogt hails from the Holstein region of Germany. He’s already essaying big Wagner parts (Lohengrin, Meistersinger, Der Ringen), even at Bayreuth. He’s being tagged then, as the next, arrived big Wagnerian Heroic Tenor. Gerhaher also comes from Germany, having studied in Munich where he now also teaches voice. Before going entirely for music, Gerhaher finished degrees in philosophy (Munich) and medicine (Rome). He is becoming well-known for his lieder recitals, and several Schubert lieder recordings have won praise and acclaim. He is also doing opera, having sung Papageno under Sir Colin Davis while still in Munich.
I must say that I like Vogt very much. He may be a candidate for Heldentenor, but he is above all a voice, a singer. His approach to melody and phrasing reminds me of Sandor Konya, who recorded Lohengrin under Leinsdorf. His voice is not going to roar down on us like a Mack truck or split the instrumental walls of Mahler’s band in two – like, say, James King or Jon Vickers? Think of Ben Heppner, instead? Vogt wants to always be a singer, not a belter. He is to be commended, then, for not taking anybody up on any invitation to push his voice, just for the sake of sounding more heroic than musical. One dearly hopes he keeps up his wise, vocal resistance to these showmanship pressures.
Gerhaher is close kin, vocally. He maintains his song-styled focus throughout all his Mahler assignments, and never, ever goes operatic. We could find no better example of Gerhaher’s song styling than the really big moment in the last movement, where the singer re-enters after some poignant interluding by the orchestra. When it came to that moment in the Vienna Bernstein reading, the engineers suddenly spot-miked Fischer-Dieskau so that his lone voice would seem superman sized, and able to soar high above the orchestra.
Coming to that passage, Nagano and Gerhaher simply have no need to go for broke. Gerhaher comes in, less than full voice, staying true to himself vocally as lied singer.
If we want samples from Vogt, we can start with the very first sung notes. His drinking song of earth’s sorrows is not falling down drunk, staggering through the music’s interval leaps. Vogt phrases his way all through, never lurching. Same vocal style typifies his way with the springtime drunkard’s song about the frailty and transience of earth’s beauties. His touch in describing those friends in the Jade green pavilion is deft.
Nagano is right with his soloists, start to finish, though each daunting symphonic and vocal movement. He has no need to bear down on the orchestra, no need to underline those intoxicated Mahler brass fanfares, or to lean into the woodwinds frequent sighs and laments, or to gild the many waving bamboo green shoots or roses or lilies of all the strings’ tone painting. Mahler comes across as a cool customer indeed; yet Nagano never seems fatally distanced or uninvolved, even if he is not busy italicizing the musical narratives all that intensely.
Now I am a long-time fan of the big, sweeping approach in Mahler. I will hardly remove my copy of Bernstein in Vienna with Fischer-Dieskau and James King from my shelves. Nor the contralto or mezzo versions with beloved singers like Maureen Forrester, Christa Ludwig, Janet Baker, Jesseye Norman, Mildred Miller, Yvonne Minton, provided with very good vocal company by tenors like Richard Lewis, and others. I have plenty of space to appreciate all those different readings.
And yes. I am still waiting for my own personal Dream Team updated, probably Richard Leech with Ewa Podles? In super audio surround sound? Conducted by, maybe, Fabio Luisi in Dresden?
Truly I’m still making up my mind, yet my suspicion is that I will keep Nagano, Vogt, and Gerhaher in my shelf mix. Part of the ongoing appeal is the lush and beautiful tonal colors, still innate to the Montreal band. They are still verdant, even if responding to Nagano’s cooler manners. Part of the appeal is the vocal integrity, the subtlety from Vogt. I think his refusing to belt will wear well over the long term. I initially had some passing reservations about Gerhaher, listening on headphones. I thought I heard a momentary vibrato that I wasn’t sure I could stomach on repeated plays; happily this is less prominent on home listening, and I am completely reassured. I do miss the contralto or mezzo lift the women usually manage, especially in the last great Farewell song. I do suspect that Gerhaher will convince me in the long run, too, since he is staying true to his voice and style, fitted so well with Vogt as tenor, and meshing so well with Nagano as the recording session’s master of limpidity. The only improvement I can suggest for this approach to Mahler might be: Yo, KN, let yourself go a bit sometimes, especially when you have a band like Montreal. Bravo, all round. Ah, Montreal, you still got chops. Five (cool, lush, detailed) stars.