Admiration for artists is a funny thing, sometimes. It causes these interesting little splits in one’s judgment. For example, I came to admire Dorothea Röschmann’s singing via recordings that anyone with half a brain would appreciate. But I also enjoy performances of hers that I know, honestly, I would not describe as the gold standard for that particular piece or role. I like such performances because they have her characteristic little moments of subtle expressiveness, or emotional honesty, or simply because I like the sound of her voice. There’s no explaining these things, sometimes.
This performance of three songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Daniel Harding is not one of these. This is wonderful singing by any standard.
The first time I listened to this – well, it was a bit like watching the tree explode in that production of Serse from last week. (In a sense that my initial reaction was “this is great fun – let’s stop and play it over again!” Not in the sense that Mahler songs and exploding trees are equivalent in any deep kind of way.)
The first is Das irdische Leben (text here), which has the type of ghostly urgency you hear in those grim kinds of fairy tales that end with morbid twists – a feeling entirely appropriate to the subject of the text.
This is the second one, Lob Des Hohen Verstandes / “Praise of lofty intellect”
My German is not good enough to both parse the words and listen to the music at the same time, and the CD’s liner notes do not contain any of the texts, but before I went and looked up the text of this song I got a general impression of there being some sort of conversation with a bird.
As it turns out, it’s about a singing competition between two birds. The text in German and English is here. But it’s slightly more fun to listen to when you have no idea what’s going on, because the confusion as to what all these interesting sounds could possibly be doing in there is part of the fun.
The final one is Wo Die Schönen Trompeten Blasen, which is another one of those ‘conversations with people who are probably dead’ songs that they liked so much in the nineteenth century. (Remember that ‘Cronnan’ song of Schubert’s about Shilric and Vinvela? It’s a little like that.) Here is the text. My favorite part begins about 1.40, with “das ist der Herzallerliebste dein.”
There are repeated bits with the woodwinds and brass here and that made me think of Das klagende Lied but fortunately this song is not quite in the same category as that in terms of tone. (After I listened to this I thought about going back and having another go at das klagende Lied but then I thought 1. Woe! 2. NO.)