Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Yvonne Minton Sings Mahler
Das Lied von der Erde (1909) [64:52]
4 Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn [16.00]
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen [15:59]
Yvonne Minton (mezzo-soprano)
René Kollo (tenor)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. 1 & 7 April 1970, Medinah Temple, Chicago (Wunderhorn, Gesellen); 8-9 May 1972, Krannert Center, Urbana, USA (Erde)
Notes but no texts or translations ADD
ELOQUENCE 482 7169 [2 CDs: 64:52 + 31:59]
Australian-born mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton celebrates her eightieth birthday on this day as I write this review, December 4, and I am sure many a voice-lover will want to join me in congratulating and thanking her. She has long been one of my favourite singers and enjoyed an especially productive relationship with Sir Georg Solti; she features in many recordings which often appear among the best and most recommendable versions available, including her Der Rosenkavalier, La clemenza di Tito, two recordings of Parsifal, Elgar’s Sea Pictures, Bach’s B minor Mass and numerous others.
René Kollo and Minton had participated in Solti’s famous recording Mahler’s Eighth Symphony the preceding Autumn, and were Solti regulars. Kollo and Christa Ludwig made admired recordings of the same music with both Karajan and Bernstein in the 70s; his voice was never the most tonally ingratiating, tending to grittiness, but he is more youthful here, with the heft and stamina to encompass the fearsome demands of his allotted songs but also capable of softening and attenuating his Heldentenor sound without crooning. His vocal strength makes him an especially successful interpreter of the Drunkard’s song, where many a tenor falters.
Minton’s mezzo-soprano was always one to caress the ear: the combination of her flickering vibrato, velvety timbre and innate musicality makes her an ideal Mahler interpreter. She often sings gently but always has reserves of power, as in the crescendo on “willst du nie mehr scheinen” in her first song. She freely admitted to having used the famous recording by Kathleen Ferrier and Bruno Walter as her model when learning Das Lied von der Erde but her reading is less autumnal and more robust than Ferrier’s, matching Solti’s more direct approach. She herself is restrained in her use of the text, never resorting to too declamatory a style; in Der Abschied, for example, she rather sustains such a beautiful legato and a stream of refined tone to achieve exactly the kind of mesmeric intensity this dream-like song requires. Her concluding “Ewig, ewig” is as steady and poised as one could wish. Solti was always the most considerate of accompanists to singers and the rapport between him, Minton and the orchestra is effortless.
Solti-bashing became an habitual pastime for some critics as his career advanced; the accusation was always that he was brash, crude and rushed. Certainly both the recorded and orchestral sound here is bright and his approach seems brisker than
Karajan, for example – although their timings for the last great song are virtually identical. He gives the Chicago brass their head and doesn’t linger unnecessarily, but he is in fact considerably more leisurely than Walter in both his studio and live recordings with Ferrier and several celebrated interpreters of this remarkable song cycle. The orchestral interlude half way through Der Abschied in particular is characterised by some lovely playing from individual instrumental contributors.
Minton rightly delivers the other songs in a more histrionic manner, exploiting the natural vibrancy and rich lower register of her voice without resorting to exaggeration and Solti is once again a model of how to accompany a single voice with a large orchestra. She soars easily over the long lines of “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen” and her German diction is excellent.
I know of mildly obsessed collectors of Das Lied von der Erde who have eighty versions of it on their shelves. There are probably a hundred extant recordings of it – I have a mere score or so - and as many Mahler song recital albums by the greatest singers and conductors, so I cannot in all honesty say that this is the one disc to buy for these works when you can equally derive as much more pleasure from listening to Janet Baker, Frederica von Stade, Marilyn Horne, Christa Ludwig, Brigitte Fassbaender and many more, but if you admire Solti and Minton as I do you will not be disappointed.
Given the short measure on CD 2 (the timing for CD 2 is wrongly given as 64:52), it would have been nice to have had Minton’s recording of Rückert-Lieder, too, only she made that for Sony, not Decca. The only other caveat here is that, given Mahler’s understandable preoccupation with loss and death, the songs are predominantly dark and gloomy, but the beauty of both the music and the performance goes a long way towards ensuring that the listener is captivated throughout.