The Washington Post

Mahler’s ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ released in two versions, one transcendant

On CD: Two versions of “Das Lied von der Erde”

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde. Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Josef Krips. Deutsche Grammophon. $18.98.


Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde. Cornelia Kallisch, mezzo-soprano; Siegfried Jerusalem, tenor; SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg conducted by Michael Gielen. Hanssler Classic. $18.99.


(Courtesy of Hänssler Classic)

Truly great performances of a masterwork are, by definition, difficult to come by.  The release of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” in a remastered live recording from June 14, 1964, featuring Fritz Wunderlich and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, is something to celebrate.

This is a dark, dark reading, using Mahler’s alternative of tenor and baritone rather than the more familiar tenor and contralto (now often a mezzo-soprano).  But this is also a beautifully balanced interpretation that resounds with warmth throughout: Josef Krips was an excellent Mahler conductor who consistently emphasized the composer’s lyricism and had been conducting this symphony/cantata since 1928.

From Wunderlich’s slight pause before the word “tod” (“death”) at each of its occurrences in the first song, “Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde,” to Fischer-Dieskau’s emotional intensity and gorgeous intonation on the seven-times-repeated word “ewig” (“forever”) at the end of the final song, “Der Abschied,” the performance glows with intensity and pulsates with a level of anguished beauty rarely heard in this music and entirely appropriate to it.  Despite some audience coughing and a recording that is not up to modern standards, this is a CD to cherish — one of the highlights of this centennial year of Mahler’s death.

In contrast, the “Das Lied von der Erde” with Cornelia Kallisch and Siegfried Jerusalem seems rather pale. It is a curious hybrid: Jerusalem’s three segments were recorded in 1992, Kallisch’s three in 2002. 

But the sound is remarkably even throughout — the engineers deserve high praise for that — and the performance seems thoroughly integrated and well-thought-out.  Jerusalem’s is not an ideal voice for this music, but it is more than satisfactory here, with warmth and understanding — and little of the harshness or strain that the singer sometimes exhibits elsewhere. 

Kallisch starts a bit shakily, but she warms up part of the way through “Der Einsame im Herbst” and makes “Von der Schonheit” sound like a scherzo, abetted by Michael Gielen’s fine handling of the song’s rhythms.  This is a well-structured and involving reading.  The fact that it does not measure up to the Wunderlich/Fischer-Dieskau/Krips recording only means that it is not a transcendent experience.

Show Comments

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.