Mahler – Lieder
Bernarda Fink; Anthony Spiri; Gustav Mahler Ensemble; Tonkünstler Orchester Niederösterreich; Andrés Orozco-Estrada
Harmonia Mundi MNC 902173
Scottish mezzo Karen Cargill, trained in Glasgow, Toronto (with Patricia Kern) and London, is in the early stages of a burgeoning career. This recording marks her debut recital on the Glasgow-based Linn record label. The disc offers a comparatively rare opportunity to hear the Fünf Lieder by Alma Mahler (1879-1964) published in 1910, along with two major song cycles by her husband Gustav. The young Alma Schindler, Mahler’s fetching 22-year-old composition student and sometime lover of Alexander Zemlinsky when the two first met, was persuaded to abandon her creative pursuits before agreeing to marry the first of her many husbands in 1902, though at the end of his life (1860-1911) a repentant and cuckolded Gustav arranged to have her songs published by Universal Edition. Zemlinsky’s influence looms large in these erotically chromatic and assuredly accomplished Lieder which are given highly sympathetic readings here. The set is followed by Gustav Mahler’s Fünf Rückert Lieder and the four-movement Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, closing with a passionate rendition of the Urlicht movement from his Second Symphony. Cargill is blessed with an enormous and opulent voice which in full flight can reach operatic volumes, notably so in the triumphant conclusion of Um Mitternacht from the Rückert Lieder, though a certain breathiness becomes apparent when her powerful voice is drawn back. Veteran accompanist Simon Lepper provides immaculate support throughout. The otherwise enjoyable and well-recorded disc seems rather skimpy at a mere 53 minutes.
An artist of exceptional sensitivity and great emotional depth, Bernarda Fink is an Argentinian singer of Slovenian extraction best known for her Baroque-era performances. With this disc she reveals a sympathy for the music of Mahler comparable to the great Mahler singers of the past such as Christa Ludwig and Janet Baker. The programming of this excellent Harmonia Mundi release (aptly subtitled “A Life in Songs”) is innovative, including two very rarely heard early songs, Im Lenz and Winterlied; Arnold Schoenberg’s 1920 arrangement for chamber ensemble of the complete Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; the mournful Kindertotenlieder cycle with full orchestra; and selections from his Rückert Lieder in various orchestral and piano versions for a generous duration of 78 minutes. Pianist Anthony Spiri and Fink collaborate wonderfully well together and the young Colombian conductor Andrés Orosco-Estrada (recently appointed to lead the Houston Symphony) proves equally sensitive to the subtle nuances of her deeply felt interpretations. This is truly a recording to treasure.