Recording of August 1989: Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde
James King, tenor; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein
London (CD only). Gordon Parry, eng.; John Culshaw, prod. AAD. TT: 66:32

Just a reminder that, after a long absence from the catalog, this remarkable 1966 performance of Das Lied is back in print. The only performance available with a baritone instead of an alto, this remains the most affecting I have heard. Bernstein evokes from the VPO a primeval, brooding darkness that I've heard from no one else, and Fischer-Dieskau emotes as if born to sing the "Abschied." Though many have complained about King's performance here, I have no complaints; his "Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" was exciting when I first heard it 22 years ago, and it still is. The VPO is rich and deep, its thick, heavy-toned double-reeds never sounding more aptly dark.

The original LP had quite a bit more air in the high end, but was recorded at such a low level (pre-DMM, and as much as 36 minutes per side) that you've got to play it twice as loud to match the CD, by which time the surface noise will drive you nuts. On the CD, King and Fischer-Dieskau occupy more believable places in the soundstage, as if standing right in front of the orchestra, as they would in a hall. There's some faint print-through, and the John Culshaw production is dramatically multi-miked. Bernstein's hummings and mumblings are all the more audible, and this midpriced reissue not only lacks the original's copious liner notes by James Lyons, Hanspeter Krellmann, and Richard Osborne, but lyrics and translations as well!

No matter—get this best marriage of Bernstein and Mahler, a recording of the best marriage of Mahler and the human voice. Highly recommended.—Richard Lehnert