Commercially Available CDs

Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)

The Smithsonian Chamber Players and Santa Fe Pro Musica; Kenneth Slowik, conductor, with John Elwes, tenor, and Russell Braun, baritone


Winner of a 2008 GRAMMY® Award nomination for “Best Small Ensemble Performance”

Three life-altering events struck Gustav Mahler during the middle months of 1907. His tenure as director of the Vienna Court Opera, long marked by tension, finally came to an end; his elder daughter, not yet five, died of a combination of scarlet fever and diptheria; and he himself was diagnosed with post-rheumatic heart disease. It was while Mahler was wrestling with these enormous issues that he was given the volume of paraphrase poems recently published by Hans Bethge as Die chinesische Flöte (“The Chinese Flute”). Fifteen of the eighty-three poems in Bethge’s anthology are by Li-Po, the great eighth-century T’ang poet whose work Bethge characterized as “turning into poetry the world’s mercurial, wind-swept, unutterable beauty, the eternal pain and the eternal sadness and enigma of all being. In his breast took root all the gloomy melancholy of the world, and even in moments of greatest joy he cannot shake off the shadows of the earth. His feelings constantly admonish us to recall the transitoriness of existence.” Mahler chose seven of Bethge’s translations and began to set the texts individually for voice and piano: only gradually did the symphonic scope of the project emerge. Das Lied von der Erde thus is a fascinating amalgam of the two seemingly opposed genres in which Mahler worked almost exclusively: the intimate Lied and the opulent symphony.

                                                                            —from Kenneth Slowik’s liner notes

Listen to “Von der Jugend” (“Of Youth”) from Das Lied von der Erde

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The singers on this recording are excellent. But in the last analysis it’s the total concord between the conductor and his soloists that puts the icing on the cake. Kenneth Slowik does nothing short of hug his singers, supporting them with a transparent sound, and achieving in the end very suggestive sonic pictures. Slowik’s tempi are surprisingly slow, but slow doesn’t necessarily mean without strength and inspiration, because both of these elements are guaranteed here. Slowik uses the chamber element of his chosen version to contribute mightily to the expressivity of the music. A sincere Bravo to all of the participants, not in the least the players, whose fine sense of instrumental color leaves nothing to be desired.

On this album: 

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

[1]-[6] Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), chamber orchestra version by Arnold Schönberg, completed by Rainer Riehn