Same Old Song: Another Munich Lied von der Erde

GermanyGermany Mahler, Schoenberg: Christianne Stotijn (mezzo), Ben Heppner (tenor), Eliahu Inbal (conductor), Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Herkulessaal, Munich, 24.11.2011 (JFL)

Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht for String Orchestra (1943)
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

One of the hallmarks of a top orchestra is the quality of the replacement conductors and soloists it can get on short notice. Granted, replacing Riccardo Chailly for four concerts of two programs—which is what the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra had to do this and next week— is near-impossible. At least since Chailly has reached the kind of unencumbered, matured wisdom that makes him an increasingly more interesting conductor. Quite the opposite of the kind that mellows into routine blandness with age and whose name usually starts withM”. For the program with Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (that piece still being in local centenary mode) the BRSO got Eliahu Inbal; in the following program of Berio and Ravel, the stupendous David Robertson will step in without having to change the program.

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A.Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht et al.,
H.v.Karajan / BPh
DG Originals

available at Amazon
G.Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde,
L.Maazel / BRSO / W.Meier, B.Heppner

Inbal, of course, knows his Mahler inside out, and his excellent, even-keeled Mahler cycle with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra was not just one of the first digital such cycles (on Denon), and one of the most complete (with Lied and a complete Tenth). In its reincarnation on Brilliant Classics it was also one of the first easily affordable cycles—long before budget cycles were the rule. Conducting Das Lied Inbal had the support of Christianne Stotijn and Ben Heppner—and of course the BRSO. The orchestra, responsive, detailed, and occasionally delicate, had its most (among several) delicious moments in “Der Abschied”, when the distant flute called forth above a contently humming carpet of cellos.

Heppner, almost trim by his standards, was in good shape. His voice has attained a piercing quality and an edge that is impressive and equally suitable to scaring small children. Hardened and loud enough to come through in even the most densely orchestrated bits, it is a voice no longer malleable, but not brittle, either. In the upper half of her wide register, Mlle. Stotijn’s flexible voice carries a little cloud of air before itself, which contrasts nicely with the otherwise sonorous character. Her ‘farewell’ was more beautiful than touching, much like the performance of Das Lied, and to some degree that of the Schoenberg’s preceding Transfigured Night. A sextet for large string orchestra, it is difficult to pull off and near-impossible to perfect. The BRSO certainly has it in it to do the latter—and achieved at least the former. More scrupulous detail might have allowed greater expressive warmth.

Jens F. Laurson