Youth's Magic Horn ... Boulez conducts Mahler

Youth's Magic Horn ... Boulez conducts Mahler

A little while ago, Classical Explorer undertook a comparison post of five recordings of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Just one disc today: but what a coupling, Mahler's setting of texts from Des Knaben Wonderhorn (Youth's Magic Horn) and the Adagio from the Tenth Symphony.

In some senses the music could hardly be more contrasting (at least within Mahler's World). But the "Wunderhorn" settings were an important part of Mahler's world outlook (Weltanschauung, as the Germans would say), and as we listen we can hear motifs that recur in his symphonies. The folk element was vital to Mahler, to which he added his own inimitable signature. If symphonies are to include the World, as Mahler's aspire to, they need to include legend and folk tale.

The arch-modernist composer, then conductor, Pierre Boulez recorded a lot of Mahler for DG prior to his death in January 2016. Each one is an invaluable historical docuent; and we hear in them that X-ray hearing he had. Every detail is present, yet he never loses sight of the whole.

The performances on this DG disc are all live from Severance Hall in Cleveland, from February 2010. Forhis soloists, Boulez had picked two major singers perfect for the repertoire: the Czech mezzo Magdalena Kożená. and the German baritone Christian Gerhaher. Let's hear Kožená in Rheinlegendchen, a song about a fish, a ring, a king, and a beloved:

Mahler: Rheinlegendchen (Kožená)

Gerhaher gives his songs real gravitas. There's a military slant that hangs over Revelge, for example:

Mahler: Revelge (Gerhaher)

Then comes the late Mahler, in the form of the Adagio for the Tenth Symphony. Mahler didn't complete this symphony, and there are various completions (Cooke's is the most famous); although not all conductors by any means embrace the completion of the whole piece, the first movement is accepted as part of Mahler's output. Full of aching melodies with vast intervals that open up chasms, all leading to a terrifying climax, this needs a conductor who truly understands Mahler's processes. There are few finer performances of this movement than Boulez': and here it is. Enjoy!

Mahler Symphony No. 10, Adagio