When Gustav Mahler composed his great orchestral song cycle Das Lied von der Erdein 1909, he almost certainly knew he hadn’t long to live. Avoiding the dreaded ‘curse of the ninth’, he labelled it “Eine Symphonie für eine Tenor und eine Alt (oder Bariton) Stimme und Orchester”, thus sanctioning the use of two male voices, rather than the traditional male female coupling most commonly deployed. Rejected by the authoritative Bruno Walter as an inadequate solution, it was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who began to popularise casting a baritone in the work, but until now no one singer has attempted the full six songs.
Jonas Kaufmann has had some pretty scathing reviews for his Herculean attempt, most of them smacking of closed-minded, pre-determined opposition to the concept by self-styled Mahler ‘experts’. That’s a pity, as his beautifully recorded version taken from live performances at Vienna’s Musikverein has a great deal to offer, not least of which are Kaufmann’s textual insights, and the revelatory qualities of Jonathan Nott’s interrogation of Mahler’s orchestrations.