Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nereffid vs Mahler 3: Three songs

In 1879 the still-teenage Mahler fell in love with the postmaster's daughter in his home town of Iglau, and the following year he began to write 5 songs for tenor and piano, to be dedicated to her. He only managed three - Im Lenz, Winterlied, and Maitanz im Grünen - and these weren't published until 1990. Unlike the piano quartet movement, you can hear quite a bit of Mahler in these pieces, specifically the Mahler of the Knaben Wunderhorn, folksy in theme and/or style.
Im Lenz alternates happy and sad verses, the latter of which quote the cantata Das klagende Lied (see next episode!). Winterlied seems to be painting a cheerful picture of a cottage, a fire, and a spinning wheel before turning to a reminiscence and then pivoting to sadness on the last line, though - real Freudian Mahler stuff - the spinning wheel keeps spinning happily. Maitanz im Grünen pretends to be a real folk tune, with its exhortations for dancing and kissing, and its calls of "Juchhe!". Mahler seems to have particularly liked this song, as it shows up again in his next batch of songs, this time under the title Hans und Grete. The fact that it's in the Ländler form does make it the most Mahlerian-sounding of the three songs.
I suppose their long absence from publication has held these songs back from being popular; if you want to use the phrase "minor Mahler" then I'll allow it, but they're all enjoyable little things. They show up in the recently released "complete editions" from EMI and DG, performed by, respectively, Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano and Thomas Hampson and David Lutz, and Janet Baker and Geoffrey Parsons recorded them for Hyperion back in 1983, on an album of "Mahler's Songs of Youth" (now on the Helios label). Yes, I know: only one tenor among them. I believe Hampson's recording is an old Teldec issue, whereas Bostridge's recording is brand new, done for the EMI edition; in fact the recording was made last February, a mere 8 days after I began my listening for this Mahler project. On first audition I wasn't sure Bostridge had the right voice for this music - it's pretty simple stuff, and he sounds a little too sophisticated perhaps. But he brings a wonderful Puckishness to Maitanz im Grünen, and the speed with which he takes Winterlied, even in the nostalgic bit, brings an added sense of sudden tragedy to the ending. As for Hampson and Baker, I'll be saying more about them when we get to the song cycles. After Bostridge they sound a little slow, but then nobody records anything with the express purpose of having it heard immediately after someone else's recording. There's plenty of room for everyone here.
Whatever happened Josephine Poisl, the postmaster's daughter, anyway?

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