This could be the finest Mahler you’ll hear all year. Absolutely essential.
Andrew McGregor 2010-03-25
This Mahler recital provokes comparisons with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Leonard Bernstein in many of the same songs back in 1968, and that’s already to pay the newcomer the highest of compliments. But Gerhaher’s eloquent sleeve notes take us back to Schumann and Schubert, and an approach to poetry that was barely alive when Mahler was writing his earliest songs. That’s partly what makes this early Mahler feel so natural with piano, but even in the songs conceived with orchestra, Gerhaher and Huber immerse you so successfully in their interior world that you barely register the orchestra’s absence.
The recital is beautifully planned, opening with the folksy simplicity of Rheinlegendchen, and a handful of songs that show Gerhaher to be more at ease with Mahler the rustic than Fischer-Dieskau, and with a more naturally beautiful tone and line. The four Wayfarer Songs introduce more emotional complexity, coloured with pain and sorrow, and Gerhaher’s lyric baritone deepens and darkens. The shadow of war looms over the next group; the eerie piano fanfares of Wo Die Schönen Trompeten Blasen (where the beautiful trumpets blow) are an alarm call as a soldier leaves his sweetheart, and Gerhaher conveys so much tenderness, and such piercing regret.
Then come Mahler’s five Rückert Songs, carefully reordered (they weren’t conceived as a cycle) to frame as their centrepiece what Gerhaher calls “the enigmatic, self-absorbed, and ultimately inscrutable Um Mitternacht” – the poet awake at midnight, bereft of all but the beating of his own heart: ‘one single pulse of agony’. Without orchestra, it’s stark and utterly devastating. And it’s left to Urlicht – the primal light from Mahler’s Second Symphony – to provide a glow of reassurance at the end of the recital.
Huber achieves pianistic miracles of colour and timing, and to call this a mature partnership barely begins to address the depth of their mutual understanding. The recording feels as truthful as the performances, and at a time when we seem to be overwhelmed by new recordings of Mahler’s symphonies, might I humbly suggest that this could be the finest Mahler you’ll hear all year? Absolutely essential.