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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Lieder aus Des Knaben Wunderhorn (selection):
Lob des hohen Verstandes [2:46]
Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen [6:49]
Revelge [7:00]
Rheinlegendchen [3:09]
Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht [2:01]
Urlicht [5:08]
Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952)
Lieder nach Rainer Maria Rilke: Vier Gedichte für Singstimme und Orchester
(2000, orch, 2004):
Neue Sonne [4:46]
Dies überstanden haben [4:47]
Ich ging; ich wars [4:40]
Oft auf dem Glasdach [5:40]
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen:
Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht [3:43]
Ging heut' morgen übers Feld [4:03]
Ich hab' ein glühend Messer [2:53]
Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz [4:53]
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Bochumer Symphoniker/Steven Sloane
rec. 26-29 September 2011, Ruhrkongress, Bochum, Germany
CPO 777 675-2 [62:26]

What initially attracted me to this CPO release was the combination of Christoph Prégardien’s splendid voice singing ten of Mahler’s wonderful orchestral songs. I didn’t know the four orchestral songs by contemporary German composer Wolfgang Rihm which turned out to be a bonus. German lyric tenor Prégardien continues to be a popular choice for record labels and now has more than one hundred and thirty discs to his name; not a few of which have attracted prestigious awards. I often play Prégardien’s wonderful 1994 Hampstead recording with pianist Graham Johnson of Schubert’s ‘Songs of 1816’: volume 23 of The Hyperion Schubert Edition.
The disc opens with a selection from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn) settings of anonymous German folk poems. Here Prégardien has chosen to sing six of the group of twelve Wunderhorn songs. My highlights are the meltingly beautiful rendition of Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen (Where the fine trumpets blow) notable for the martial character of the orchestral part and a similarly lovely Urlicht (Primal Light) sung with such tender expression.
Born in Karlsruhe, Rihm is a composer who is most likely to be encountered via his orchestral music. I reported from a number of concerts at the Musikfest Berlin 2011 where Rihm was featured. I heard several of his works with the most memorable being Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Time Chant II with the Pittsburgh Symphony under Manfred Honeck. Rihm is often considered a writer of challenging music. I remember writing at the time that there was nothing in Rihm’s music that an open mind and a reasonable degree of concentration wouldn’t reward. Here Prégardien tackles Rihm’s Vier Lieder after Rainer Maria Rilke, the Bohemian/Austrian poet. Originally composed in 2002 for voice and piano these songs are presented in their version for voice and orchestra. It was prepared by Rihm in 2004. Prégardien himself gave the premièrethe same year in Basel with the Basel Sinfonietta under Emilio Pomarico. There is nothing at all to worry about here as this is Rihm at his most accessible. With little in the way of variety the overall mood is unhurried and steeped in world-weariness which the assured Prégardien presents convincingly. 

The final sequence here is the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Wayfarer Songs). Mahler wrote his own texts strongly influenced by Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn). Around 1884/85, Mahler had been inspired, following the ending of an affair with soprano Johanna Richter, a singer at the Kassel opera house where Mahler was conductor. Originally written for voice and piano it seems that Mahler orchestrated the songs in the early 1890s. Especially enjoyable is the opening song: Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht (When my sweetheart is married). Prégardien here communicates a sense of aching wretchedness. He also shines in Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz (The two blue eyes of my beloved). This is a deeply moving interpretation heavy with resignation. 

Recorded in 2011 at the Ruhrkongress, Bochum the sound engineers have excelled. The classy CPO label is to be congratulated for providing full German texts with English translations. One senses Prégardien’s total engagement with the texts and he presents them confidently. His impressive diction and fluid control of meaning and mood is bound to impress, although, at times I wanted additional tone colour. In fine form, the orchestra and conductor are sympathetic and assured partners.  

Michael Cookson