Sunday, April 15, 2012

Getting through, but not quite finishing with, Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer" -- studies in emotional contrasts


Baritone Christian Gerhaher sings the raging, then emotionally wiped-out third of Mahler's Wayfarer Songs, "Ich hab' ein glühend' Messer," at the 2010 Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, with Herbert Blomstedt (age 83) conducting the Mahler Youth Orchestra.

by Ken

Here I was thinking we could cover the four songs of Mahler's Lieder eines farhrenden Gesellen) (Songs of a Wayfarer) in two posts (plus previews). Now it turns out that it's going to stretch to three.

In the first installment we got through the first two songs, "Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht" ("When my darling has her wedding day") and "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld" ("Went this morning across the field"), which trace -- in an impressionistic rather than narrative way -- the aftermath of the wayfarer's rejected love. Then in Friday night's preview to today's post, we jumped to the great final song, "Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz" ("The two blue eyes of my darling"), which seems to resolve into some sort of acceptance. Along the way we've listened to the way Mahler recycled the second and fourth songs, or portions thereof, into key portions of the first and third movements of his First Symphony.

Well, we're going to hear the third and fourth songs today, all right. In fact, we've already heard the third, "Ich hab' ein glühend' Messer" ("I have a glowing knife") up top. But we're not going to do much more than that. I'm still struggling with how I want to get just a bit inside "Die zwei blauen Augen." And so I'm going to defer most of that to another time. We will, however, entertain a couple of Schubertian digressions.


SO LET'S HEAR THE FINAL WAYFARER SONG

Friday, April 13, 2012

Preview: "By the street stands a linden tree" -- Mahler's "Wayfarer Songs," part 2


"Frère Jacques"? That beloved old French round song -- huh??? You'll hear why, but here's a hint:

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 10-11, 1962

by Ken

This week we complete our brief but intense journey through Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer. In Part 1, we began by hearing how the composer transformed the song "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld" into the exposition of his First Symphony. Tonight we're going to hear something still more remakable, I think, and surpassingly beautiful. I think it's fair to describe it as a life-changing moment, at least for the narrator. Let's start by listening to just these two all-too-brief excerpts.

Or three, actually. This time we're not going to cheat as we did with "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld," when we skipped over the intermediate stage: Mahler's orchestration of the song, prior to his incorporation of it into the symphony.ing by going back to the initially piano-accompanied version of the song, ignoring the fact that Mahler had orchestrated it before incorporating it into the symphony. (We've even got recordings that our soloist made in the same year!)

Piano-accompanied version of the song

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Leonard Bernstein, piano. CBS/Sony, recorded in New York, 1968
Orchestral version of the song

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded December 1968
Symphonic rendering

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded October 1967

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 10-11, 1962

(I notice that the start points of the clips aren't exactly synched up. I suppose I could redo them, but I don't think that's going to happen.)


NOW TO HEAR THE COMPLETE SONG

Sunday, April 1, 2012

With a concerted effort we can get through half of Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer" (okay, there are only four)


This October 1960 Paris performance of the second Wayfarer Song, "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld," with the NHK Symphony under Paul Kletzki is the vocally freest (and, yes, best; it's curious how that works) Fischer-Dieskau performance of the song I've heard. (We've got a bunch of 'em coming up.)

by Ken

Was it clear from Friday night's preview, in which we heard how Mahler transformed the second of his Songs of a Wayfarer, "Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht" ("When my darling has her wedding day"), into the exposition of his First Symphony, whether we were headed toward the song cycle or the symphony today? It wasn't supposed to be.

Once upon a time we might have tackled both in one post. Today I'm not going to try to get all the way through the four Wayfarer Songs. We're going to split them in half and listen just to the first two.

I thought that first we would re-covering the ground we covered Friday night, and for "Wenn mein Schatz" I've plucked out a remarkable performance we're going to hear again in the click-through. I'm not the world's biggest Janet Baker fan, but I really like the performance of the Wayfarer Songs she recorded with Sir John Barbirolli. They take some audaciously broad tempos, which is even riskier given the wispy nature of Dame Janet's mezzo, but I have to say, they really pull it off.

To appreciate the audacity of the Baker-Barbirolli performance, we're going to precede it with a wonderful but more conventional one by Yvonne Minton and Georg Solti. It's worth noting as we hear the song again -- even before we hear it in context, following the opening song of the cycle -- that the one ostensibly "happy" Wayfarer Song ends on a decidedly down note. When we hear the two songs together, you'll understand what the singer is apparently referring to in this unexpectedly down conclusion

MAHLER: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
(Songs of a Wayfarer):

ii. "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld"
("Went this morning across the field")



Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded Mar.-Apr. 1970

Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; Hallé Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded May 4, 1967

Now, to hear how the recycled song fits into the Mahler First Symphony, it seems only logical to hear the recordings made by the same conductors and orchestras, even though the early-stereo Barbirolli-Pye recording represents a decidedly less advanced state in Sir John's (and his provincial orchestra's) Mahler advocacy.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D:
i. Langsam. Schleppend


Hallé Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. Pye, recorded June 11-12 1957

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded October 1983


LET'S GO BACK TO THE FIRST OF THE WAYFARER SONGS