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Das himmlische Leben
Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
1. Der Fischerknabe [3:39]
2. Der Hirt [3:31]
3. Der Alpenjäger [2:01]
Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
4. Urlicht [4:50]
5. Rheinlegendchen [3:24]
6. Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen [2:20]
7. Verlorne Müh! [3:04]
8. Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald [5:01]
9. Ablösung im Sommer [2:07]
10. Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen [7:24]
11. Nicht wiedersehen! [5:22]
Franz LISZT
12. Oh! quand je dors [4:22]
13. Die Loreley [6:43]
Gustav MAHLER
14. Das himmlische Leben [10:13]
Anne Schwanewilms (soprano), Charles Spencer (piano)
rec at TONAL audiophile productions, Vienna, 21-25 February 2012.
Sung texts with translations in English and French enclosed.
ONYX 4103 [64:05]

Mahler openly declared that he was inspired and influenced by Liszt, more directly for his symphonic writing. The Faust symphony was a seminal work in that respect. Beyond that there is also a point in matching the two composers on a song disc. Most of those here are often heard but there are a few exceptions.
 
The opening three songs by Franz Liszt are from Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell. They are fairly short and all are from the beginning of the play. Der Fischerknabe opens with a long prelude where one can hear the sounds of water. The young fisherman falls asleep on the shore and when he wakes the water has risen up to his breast and the water sprite drags him down. The shepherd in the second song says farewell to the meadows when he leaves because summer is over. In the dramatic Der Alpenjäger ‘the heights thunder, the footbridge trembles but the hunter fears nothing’. Anne Schwanewilms is in her element here with her spinto voice ringing out fearlessly. These three songs should be heard more often.
 
Urlicht, composed in 1892 and orchestrated the following year was originally part of the twelve Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn but was later removed and incorporated in Symphony no 2. It is one of Mahler’s most beautiful songs but it is rarely heard with piano accompaniment. It is nobly sung here with lovely tone. Rheinlegendchen is sung with folksong like simplicity, very enticing indeed, and so is Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen, performed with more than a glint in the eye. Ich ging mit Lust is a song I frequently return to, it has for me, in all its modesty, a certain tingle-factor. For some years now I have treasured Katarina Karneus’ reading on her debut recital disc. Schwanewilms’ version is just as satisfying – and so are the rest of this Wunderhorn group.
 
Two sharply contrasting songs by Liszt, two of his very best, settings of two of the foremost poets of the century, follow. Victor Hugo’s Oh, quand je dors is a song I first heard with the British tenor Heddle Nash, accompanied by Gerald Moore. This 1948 recording still has an honoured place in my collection. Schwanewilms’ dreamy reading conveys much of the same atmosphere. Then she turns on the over-drive for Heine’s Die Loreley in a marvellously dramatic version of this evergreen. After this she changes gear again with soft singing of the utmost delicacy in the final pages. There is only one word for it: ravishing!
 
Das himmliche Leben was composed in 1892 and intended also for the second symphony, but Mahler changed his mind and in the end it became the final movement of the fourth symphony. Though this too is a Wunderhorn text it was never included in the group of twelve, nor was there a version for voice and piano. I suppose what we hear on this disc is a piano reduction of the orchestral score. Be that as it may, as sung and played here it is a worthy supplement to the other songs.
 
According to her official home page Anne Schwanewilms is a lyric soprano but judging from this disc and the fact that among her operatic roles is Die Kaiserin in Die Frau ohne Schatten, she could just as well be labelled ‘dramatic’. Her voice encompasses all the requirements for intimate lyrical songs as well the big dramatic outbursts and her tone is certainly among the most beautiful to be heard today. She has a pliable accompanist in the experienced Charles Spencer and the recording is excellent.
 
A fresh and stimulating disc.
 
Göran Forsling