Songs and orchestra are integral to Mahler’s output with perhaps their greatest synthesis being in Das Lied von der Erde – a work which the composer had described as a symphony for orchestra and two vocal soloists. It was probably the first work by Mahler to find a receptive audience with pioneering recordings by Walter, Klemperer and Bernstein featuring soloists  such as Ferrier, Baker, Wunderlich and Fischer-Dieskau.

In his latest recording, Rattle is paired with the fine Bavarian Radio Symphony which brings an intimate chamber-like approach to aid his alto soloist here, Magdalena Kožená. Kožená may not have the gravitas and maternal quality that is often associated with the best alto interpreters in this work, but her ability to word paint and add colour to a text certainly makes her someone to return to when seeking a successful contemporary recording of the work. Her enticing intimacy within the concluding Das Abschied is highly effective but her use of rhythm and precison with words in Part II is truly unique.

Stuart Skelton may not be as sweetly-toned as Wunderlich; he has the opposite problem to Kožená – can he bring his voice down enough in order to create a sense of tonal balance? Generally he succeeds very well indeed with particular success in the two drinking songs. Well recorded, here is a second or third choice for the contemporary Mahlerian.

Composer: Mahler
Composition: Das Lied von der Erde
Performer: Magdalena Kozena, Stuart Skelton, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Sir Simon Rattle
Catalogue Number: BR Klassik 900172

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