Sunday, May 8, 2011

Nereffid vs Mahler 8: More Wayfaring

On, at last, to the orchestral recordings of Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen. The first one I listened to was Brigitte Fassbaender, Deutsches SO Berlin/Riccardo Chailly (Decca), and hearing it right after several piano versions required quite an adjustment. In fact I had a few doubts about whether the orchestral version was a good idea. Those stemmed, essentially, from the fact that your orchestra obviously has a much broader sound palette than your piano and I initially felt there was a little too much contrast between songs to produce a fully coherent cycle. Nonsense, of course, and nothing more than a reminder to have one's correct listening ears on. That said, this particular performance is high on contrast anyway, thanks to the high drama of Fassbaender's reading; even in the first song, the cheerful second verse is a world away from the sorrowful first - and then the third comes back to the start. I noted at the time "You wonder how she could go on, frankly", but on she goes to a joyful "Ging heut' morgen" that eventually sinks into sadness, and then a variously harsh, mysterious, and sinister "Ich hab' ein gluhend Messer". As for the final song, Fassbaender doesn't seem as accepting of her fate as the singers I've listened to earlier. In the end she goes peacefully, but with a sense of resignation - a much darker ending than I've heard before. Overall, Fassbaender and Chailly's approach to the cycle doesn't quite match what I like to get out of it, but it still impresses.
Second is Thomas Allen, English Chamber Orchestra/Jeffrey Tate (EMI). My first impression here was that there was a rather Wotanish sound to Allen's performance (though he hasn't done much Wagner, as far as I know) - which is to say, quite a bit of dramatic heft, and I felt there was a certain sense of detachment in the third verse (somewhat like Christoph Pregardien's performance) that in this case came across as a sort of godlike commentator on the situation rather than one personally involved. The music flows well here, but the sound of the recording isn't great, and in the second verse Allen's voice rather disappears, like he's up a tree! Again in the pastoral second song I hear a patriarchal quality to the voice, making the song sound like something from Haydn's Creation. But I noted "He does a lovely 'nimmer'" towards the end. There's a big dramatic contrast as we go to the third song, but the transition works well. Mrs Nereffid described the overall feeling of this one as "futile anger", while I heard Wotan returning for the last line. "Die zwei blauen Augen" has a valedictory start, and the second verse has a touch of hope as he sets off on his journey. Later he's quite sad but not despairing, and he drifts off at the end, like he has no more say in the matter. The orchestral coda is wistful. It's a shame about the recorded sound in this performance (I have it on a HMV Classics release; maybe there's another issue that sounds better), because Allen seems in fine voice; in fairness, though, interpretively I would wish for more.
Unfortunately Bernadette Greevy, NSO Ireland/János Fürst don't provide a huge amount of interpretation either. Not that I don't like the performance - I like her voice - but I could do with more characterization. The second song feels too slow, the third seems a little tepid, and I'm not convinced by the ending of the fourth, which seems more like enunciation of the words rather than anything deeper. In the olden days before cheap downloads, you could say that this was good value at the Naxos price without committing yourself to an actual recommendation. But Fassbaender wins easily in a direct comparison.
To be continued...

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