MAHLER: Kindertotenlieder. Adagio from Symphony No 10. WEBERN: Passacaglia, Op. 1. "Im Sommerwind"
Cornelia Kallisch, mezzo-soprano; SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Michael Gielen, cond.

The remastered Mahler Adagio from Symphony No. 10 on this well-filled disc dates from the late autumn of 1989, Kindertotenlieder from 1998 along with Webern’s Im Sommerwind, composed in 1904 “not without pride.” Webern waited four more years, however, to write a second work for orchestra, the Passacaglia, Op. 1, having studied in the meantime with Schoenberg. Gielen’s version (originally for Intercord) was recorded in 1992 at Baden-Baden as both Mahler works were. Im Sommerwind comes from the Konzerthaus at Freiburg, which shares the SWR Orchestra, although in the first of five Kindertotenlieder it features the ugliest oboe sound I have heard from this orchestra, or just about any other professional assembly in Mittel-Europa! As a longtime fan of Gielen, dating back to Stockholm in 1965, I can only hope the player was an emergency deputy.

His mezzo-soprano soloist is the same Corelia Kallisch who recorded the Second and Third Symphonies with him on Hänssler—a musicianly artist to be sure although vocally lacking the character of at least a dozen colleagues living and deceased who have recorded this (for me) eerily prescient and almost always depressing cycle. I’m thinking in particular of Kathleen Ferrier, Jessye Norman, Christa Ludwig, Janet Baker, Waltraute Meier, even Kirsten Flagstad (not to mention an equal, possibly greater number of baritones, among them Bryn Terfel, Thomas Hampson, Hermann Prey, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Andreas Schmidt, going all the way back to Heinrich Rehkemper between World Wars). That said, rehearing Kallisch three times in the deeply compassionate context of Gielen’s interpretation (but skipping the first song with that ghastly oboe duck-call), one must award her an honorable mention.

Gielen belongs to the cadre of conductors who reject any completion of Symphony No. 10, and conducts only the opening Andante/Adagio movement (nowhere does it say if this is the score as Mahler left it complete, albeit unedited much less revised, or the Krenek/Schalk version of 1924 that widow Alma commissioned them to transcribe for publication and performance). My guess is the original knowing Gielen’s temperament, and his further insight that Mahler wrote it in the manner of the Beethoven Ninth slow movement, with two tempi that ultimately become as one. I have owned the Intercord disc for several years since I found it on a store-shelf (a 38-minute non- bargain at full price, coupled only with the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan). Hänssler has cleaned up distortion in the high string passages with blaring trumpets, although there was no way to strengthen bass that SWR engineers obviously modulated for broadcast in 1989. In any event it remains a glowing and deeply touching performance, string sonorities in particular, and if Gielen rejects completions there are plenty now to be had of several alternatives.

His Webern is as impassioned as Mahler, although Takuo Yuasa’s Naxos performance of the Passacaglia with the admirable Ulster Orchestra (which couples five mature Webern works that may cause you to grit your teeth initially) costs less than half of Hänssler’s list price. Actually there are Passacaglia recordings galore, and a surprising number of Im Sommerwind, which Gielen happily refuses neither to hurry nor to cling to. It comes down to this: if you want everything in Hänssler’s potpourri without any later Webern pieces, I’ve seen it offered on the web for $13.49 (plus postage & handling of course).

R.D. (January 2004)